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Training for Choice in the Workplace

Manos Home Care’s Democratic Scheduling Process 

Manos Home Care’s Adult Care department assists seniors and adults with disabilities with their daily activities in their homes, including personal care, cooking, cleaning, laundry and errands. Organized as a mutual benefit corporation, Manos Home Care’s primary purpose is to benefit its employees. Democratic education is important in carrying out our mission. Manos Home Care is a part of the group of cooperatively organized businesses loosely referred to as Manos—with six organizations providing jobs for 250 workers in 20 East Bay cities, the Manos group of businesses is one of the largest cooperatively organized businesses in the United States. Manos companies provide work in the areas: commercial office cleaning, day labor, home care for seniors, house cleaning, and respite care for children with disabilities.

Base building education at this level means teaching participants some basic skills, but it also involves un-learning undemocratic passive tactics that workers have adopted to survive in other workplaces.

 “I need a new availability form,” says Felicia McGiver, a home care aide who cares for seniors. The request is common at Manos Home Care, where workers set their own work schedules. As a part of the process in applying for work at Manos Home Care, applicants fill out a form that tells Manos Home Care when they are available to work. “I went up to Iesha [Manos Home Care Program Director] and asked her if this was a trick question,” says Felicia, laughing. Not only is the concept new, but the ability to fill out the form is a skill that workers often need to learn. The responsibility to educate applicants and employees in filling out the availability form is necessary for Manos’ offer to be truly democratic: without training people to exercise their democratic options, the choices don’t really exist.

Determining one’s own work schedule is often a new experience for home care workers. Administrative staff spends a lot of time in one-on-one sessions explaining how to fill the form out, and how to think about setting their own schedules. Allowing workers to set their schedules is one of the ways in which Manos Home Care incorporates democratic education into its workplace.

The choices for the home care aides are real; applicants must fill out a form stating their availability to work and can change that availability at any time during their employment. Felicia has stated that she can perform live-in work on weekends, and was just assigned to a client after passing a pre-employment training, criminal background check, and work reference check. In Felicia’s case, her availability matched what a client needed, and Manos Home Care managers gave her the assignment, and Felicia joined the 85 other home care aides, 90% of whom are African-American women.

When scheduling for entry-level jobs in traditional for-profit companies, managers attempt to find employees to work the schedules that their company requires by stating their requirements to applicants and current employees. The relationship is between the Manager and the employee; the Manager attempts to force the employee to conform to the company’s scheduling requirements. At Manos Home Care, we turn that relationship on its head. The workforce states their schedule, the clients state their required schedule, and managers coordinate the requests of clients and workers, matching home care aides with clients based on schedules and additional factors, such as location, client needs, and home care aide qualifications.

Manos Home Care has a four-phase process that assists home care aides in exercising their scheduling options—a new process for them. Without this training process, the democratic options wouldn’t make any sense, and home care aides would fall back into the pattern of waiting for the boss to tell them what schedule they will work. The four phases are:

  1. Application. Applicants fill out the availability form, stating the earliest times they can start and the latest times they can finish a case, both for day and night shifts. Live-in shifts are also available, and applicants also state what cities they in which they are willing to work. Applicants are free to speak to the administrative assistant regarding how to think through what their schedule is. Many times applicants put the shift they would like to work instead of the parameters of their availability—when they can work versus what shift they would prefer. After the administrative assistant is satisfied they understand the form, she accepts it and passes it to the program director with the completed application.
  2. Interview. In the interview, the availability sheet is reviewed and once again the concept of a parameter is reviewed to ensure that applicant understands that she or he is stating what times they can work, and that they can really work during these periods. The interviewer also discusses whether or not an applicant’s availability is consistent with the customer requests Manos Home Care receives. If Manos Home Care doesn’t usually get shifts that fall within an applicant’s availability, the applicant must either change their availability or risk not being hired.
  3. Pre-Assignment Training. During the first day of our three-day employee training class, the concept of availability is reviewed in the context of assignments and customer satisfaction sessions. Customers often complain about switching home care aides, tardiness, absenteeism, and requesting to leave in the middle of a shift; the trainer links these service problems, among other causes, to accepting a case that does not match a home care aide’s true availability. During the discussion of the assignment process, the trainer reviews how a home care aide’s availability is entered into Manos home Care’s customer software program, and that when new assignments come in, we match those assignments with a home care aide’s availability. The intended outcome of this training is for the aide to understand that what their availability is crucial to getting the right assignment that will allow them to succeed.
  4. Scheduling. After successfully completing the training, home care aides wait for an assignment. Schedulers call home care aides for assignments based on their availability. When the assignment is being discussed, schedulers specifically mention that the aide has stated they are available for the shift in question. If the aide refuses, then the conversation shifts to their actual availability. The assignment structure trains home care aides in the use of their availability, and they come to understand that “you really mean it when you ask when we can work.” After turning down an assignment, home care aides often fill out a new availability form and assignments are made based on the new availability.

Democratic education becomes meaningful when it concentrates on training people to exercise real options integrated into the activities of their life—work being one of these basic activities. At any workplace there are core processes in which groups of employees participate; at Manos Home Care, the assignment process is one of those core processes. Manos Home Care creates democratic action by building options into the assignment process and through training workers to exercise those options, people such as Felicia, who is currently caring for a senior in the Oakland hills. Democratic education becomes meaningful, interesting, and essential when focused on processes that include democratic actions and options.

Kevin Rath is the co-founder and Director of  Manos Home Care.

Web Special: Educating for Equity | Vol. 14 No. 2 | Fall 2007 | Credits

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