This Labor Day, struggles are a reality for many ABQ, US employees

Gabby Monsivais (Center), Dion’s Commissary General Manager, talks with Alma Mendoza (Left) while Cirila Ramirez (Right) flips dough at the facility in Albuquerque. (Mike Sandoval for the Journal)
Gabrielle Porter
Gabrielle Porter
Journal Business Editor

Gabby Monsivais spent a lot of time at work over the last year checking a home security camera feed on her cellphone.

The Albuquerque resident wasn’t on the lookout for burglars or vandals. Instead, Monsivais, a single mother of two, had her camera trained on her son, Tristan – a fifth-grader struggling to keep up with remote learning. Off-camera, Monsivais’ daughter, Triana, now 15, did schoolwork in her own room. Meanwhile, Monsivais herself was at work, managing Dion’s Commissary, which churns out food products for the company’s restaurants – not work, by the way, that can be done remotely.

“It was really challenging and stressful,” Monsivais said. “… It was multiple checks, multiple phone calls with the kids, multiple … (times) just looking at the camera, making sure it was working.”

This Labor Day, a holiday set aside to recognize contributions workers make to our community, Monsivais’ story highlights a struggle that’s playing out on local and national levels – for workers, for single parents and for women. Parents across the state and country were forced to get creative to find ways to get their children to digital classrooms. More than 2.3 million women dropped out of the workforce altogether from February 2020 to February 2021, compared with 1.8 million men during the same period, according to a report from the National Women’s Law Center.

Monsivais has worked hard to get where she is now. The 35-year-old, born in Mexico but raised in Albuquerque since she was 11, started at Dion’s as an administrative assistant about 12 years ago. She worked her way up to the general manager position at the commissary and now oversees about 65 people at the facility, which produces bread, cookies, brownies, salad dressings and fruit cups, as well as pizza dough for some Dion’s locations.

When the pandemic hit New Mexico, the commissary wasn’t shut down – “Thank goodness, because I needed a job, obviously,” Monsivais said.

But while some working parents were able to call on relatives to help oversee school-age children or figure out how to balance remote school with their own remote work, Monsivais didn’t have those options. Her family members all work. Her ex-husband, a truck driver, “isn’t really involved.”

So Monsivais did what she had to. She stocked up on easily prepared frozen meals and school supplies, filled her son’s phone with alarms set to try to keep him on track throughout the day, and got her camera system up and running.

And she kept going to work – which was going through its own roller coaster of constantly changing safety precautions.

Like so many other workplaces, the commissary went through masking, new hand-washing requirements, installation of hand sanitizing stations AND frequent regular cleaning at the facility – even shift separating to allow teams to work without being in contact with one another. Workers were encouraged to call in sick rather than come to work with so much as a headache – which meant Monsivais was dealing with tricky scheduling more often to keep production moving.

Gabby Monsivais, Dion’s Commissary General Manager, sits in her office at the facility in Albuquerque. (Mike Sandoval for the Journal)

As the pandemic wore on, Monsivais’ family life evened out somewhat. She and her kids started a Friday movie night. They bought board games and puzzles and doubled down on family activities.

“It kind of brought the family together,” Monsivais said.

Her kids got to attend the tail end of the school year in-person and are back in the classroom now.

Monsivais said she’s appreciated the support she’s gotten at work while she’s juggled work with taking care of her kids. When her son was sent home from school with a runny nose recently, the company didn’t just let her leave to pick him up – her boss spent time trying to help her find a place where her son could get a COVID-19 test in short order.

“I love that they do care,” she said.

As a manager, Monsivais said, she knows she’s asked a lot of her staff for the past 18 months, but Monsivais said the staff has mostly rolled with the changes and restrictions.

“Praise to them, because they never complained. They did what we asked them to, and they understood it was for their own safety and everyone else’s,” Monsivais said. “… It was stressful, but … we got through it. … In a way, because, I mean, it’s still not over.”

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