Tag Archives: Lafayette

An Arm’s Length Away, Then Tragedy, Then What?

8417189_GNew Orleans     A couple of weeks ago my daughter and some friends had gone to see a band from Lafayette playing at Chickie-Wah-Wah, a local New Orleans music club. She thought the price was a little steep, but paid it. Servicing and organizing bargaining units around that part of Louisiana she has come to love the music scene and the whole Acadiana vibe. As she told me later, she was so close to the band that Jillian Johnson, one of the women singers was hardly an arm’s length away. It was great!

Days later a man described as a “drifter” and a mental patient from near the Alabama-Georgia border who had been staying at the local Motel 6 in Lafayette walked into a showing of Amy Schumer’s reportedly hilarious Trainwreck and started firing. He wounded a bunch of people, many badly and he killed two young women, Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson.

This was just another in a series of tragic killings that we have allowed in the United States through our unconscionable lack of community and political will to do the right things about guns for the good of society as a whole and the families affected. Ironically, even Louisiana’s Governor, and wannabe President, Bobby Jindal, tried to jump into the fray and shame other states into at least having a program to automatically register people with mental health issues in a federal database.

Guns are not unknown to our family, but they’re not “familiar” with them. They’ve shot them. Relatives and friends hunt. I owned a BB gun as a boy and have a shotgun safely in Arkansas. We’re not fanatics, but there’s no excuse for not being smarter.

Social Policy Press is preparing to publish an e-book this fall by distinguished law professor, Franklin Strier, called Guns and Kids: Can We Stem the Carnage? It’s a good question and Strier has a lot to say about it and solid policy proposals for what needs to be done, especially to protect children. Children, include those of families victimized in Lafayette.

We often say that real social change in this country only comes whether it be about war-and-peace, women, race, gay rights, or many other issues, when it comes home to people. Where is the tipping point after Colorado, Connecticut, South Carolina, and now Louisiana when such tragedy has finally come close enough to enough of us that it is at “arm’s length” and forces change?

Reading a New York Times’ quote from Mary Tutwiler, mourning her friend, Jillian Johnson, and wanting her life to have more meaning, makes me hope that we are finally coming to the end of this road, as she says:

“In the past few days, I have been so sad and so angry, I didn’t know what to do with myself. But the thing about knowing Jillian is that in the same place, she would have taken it upon herself to do something. Things flash through my mind: better federal and state laws regulating the sale of guns, better databases, assault weapon bans. The national conversation is now personal – it’s my conversation as well.”

These words should be on the tip of all of our lips until there is real change and we have put this problem and the tragedies it brings much farther away than arms’ length.


Is Rough Worker “Care” an Indication of Bad Client Care?

Bobby Jindal talks his version of Health Care Reform

New Orleans    Here’s a dilemma.  Our union, Local 100, United Labor Unions, represents a lot of workers in the Greater New Orleans, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge areas who live in small, residential “community” homes, as they are called, who are developmentally disabled.   Some of the companies are large, some are smaller, some have been nonprofit and have become for profit, some were for profit and have become nonprofit over the years depending on the vicissitudes of the industry.  With the crises in state financing, the reimbursement rates have been frozen or reduced by Governor Bobby Jindal and his ultra-conservative, hard fisted administration.  We bargain with the companies and for the good of the clients and the workers need them to succeed and thrive.

Headlines blared out from the front page of the Times-Picayune last week as reports were issued by the Advocacy Center, a Louisiana nonprofit funded largely by the federal government, blasting 16 of the 509 homes in the state as the worst in the state.  Where the shoe pinched hardest among the organizers and leaders of Local 100 was that all 6 of the worst homes in the New Orleans area, 5 in Kenner and 1 in the city, belonged to Progressive Health Providers, one of our union companies, which converted to a nonprofit years ago.   Looking down the list, three of the homes, the two on Delaware and Fayette, are well known to me because it seems most of the grievances with PHP seem to arise at those homes.

According to the Times-Picayune the Advocacy Center report nailed these PHP-homes for “dirty conditions where holes in walls aren’t uncommen and upkeep and maintenance are spotty at best,” according to Nell Hahn, their litigation director.  The report went on to say that “most resident are not provided with dental or mental care, and there seems to be little focus on offering individualized programs to determine the skill level of every resident with the goal of integrating as many as possible into the community….”  Ouch!  Our workers literally love these clients, and though many undoubtedly didn’t read the article, it was no surprise that everyone with the union was upset.  When the Advocacy Center says that “these homes were selected because of problems that never seem to ‘get fixed’ for long…,” unfortunately, the painful truth is that that is often our experience in trying to resolve grievances and issues for the workers with the company as well.  The shoe is pinching!

Company and state spokespeople predictably pushed back at the Advocacy Center report.  The company almost seemed in their statement to be blaming the neighborhoods where the homes were located and attributing the problems to Katrina.  Frankly, it was hard to follow.

You can run, but you can’t hide.  We’ll reach out to the Advocacy Center and see what we can do as a union and as workers to fix the problems.  We’ll reach out to the company as well and see if there’s a joint project that we can propose to get on a good list and get union homes off the bad list, but it’s hard to be optimistic.  The culture of the company seems to be to resist, rather than resolve, to excuse, rather than to learn and solve, so they may see all of us as the enemy and crawl into the bunker, rather than uniting for the client.  What the report and article don’t do is clearly call out that despite the fact that PHP is a nonprofit, it is managed by a for profit company, and that may be at the heart of the problem.  Sometimes we have looked at PHP officials across the table and had to ask, “Are you really a nonprofit?”

It’s possible that the union and the workers may be more embarrassed, than the company, but somehow we all have to do better!