Essential Workers or Sacrificial Employees? What Essential Workers Are Facing and How to Help Them
The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the deep inequalities in our society. It has also revealed just how much we depend on essential workers to keep our economy going.
They’re the unsung heroes who pick produce in the fields, operate buses and subway trains, stock shelves at the grocery store, and provide life-saving medical care.
We call them essential. We know they’re essential. Yet too often they’re treated as dispensable. And that started long before the pandemic began.
Take the millions of people who work in the gig economy—the Instacart couriers, Uber drivers, and Taskers. Since they’re classified as independent contractors, they don’t get benefits like overtime pay, health insurance, paid time off, or even minimum wage guarantees.
Who exactly are essential workers?
The range of essential workers is broader than you might think. They’re the gig economy workers we just mentioned. And they’re fast food workers, cleaners, retail employees, customer service reps, social service workers, home health aides, energy workers, and so many others. Many work two or even three jobs just to survive.
Black and Latino women are also more vulnerable to COVID-19 in the first place. That’s because they have less access to health care and higher rates of comorbidities, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and lung disease (which also reflect broader racial inequalities). All of this contributes to the race gap in coronavirus deaths.
Some companies have offered hazard pay or one-time bonuses for essential workers. But how much is risking your life worth? An extra dollar—or five—an hour? And, in any case, many companies have reduced their business hours and slashed employees’ hours, too. That means extra wages from hazard pay may be wiped out altogether.
3 ways you can help essential workers
The system is stacked against essential workers in so many ways. They’re bearing the brunt of coronavirus health risks. If you’re wondering how you can help them, here are a few ways:
Stay home and mask up. If you have the luxury of working from home, consider yourself lucky. Stay home when you can, practice social distancing, avoid risky activities like going to bars and indoor dining at restaurants, and always wear a mask around others. The politicization of facemasks is not only unfortunate, it’s downright dangerous. Today we have ample evidence that facemasks help prevent community spread. But they’re most effective when everyone wears them.
Demand better protections. In April, Senator Elizabeth Warren and California Rep. Ro Khanna unveiled a proposal to create an Essential Workers Bill of Rights (EWBOR) as part of the next coronavirus relief package. EWBOR would provide essential workers with masks and gloves, free testing and healthcare, hazard pay, universal paid sick and family leave, childcare support, whistleblower protections, and more. Sign this petition to demand Congress pass EWBOR. Also contact your state congressional reps and ask them to enact similar protections where you live.
Be kind and offer gifts when you can. Nightly tributes are a nice gesture, but the best way to honor healthcare workers is by doing your part to keep people out of the hospital in the first place. That means wearing a mask, socially distancing, and staying home when possible. Next time you’re at the grocery store or retail shop, say thanks to a staff member for their hard work. If you’re able, donate your bus pass or Metro card to an essential worker. An EZ Transit pass in Los Angeles costs anywhere from $110 to $353—a huge expense for many workers. If you have a neighbor who’s an essential worker, offer to walk their dog or run an errand for them. Odds are they’ll be grateful for the help.
These are hard times. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, and no one’s quite sure when life will get back to normal. We could all use a little inspiration right now.
You’re in luck. DCP Entertainment is home to health motivation podcasts that entertain, enlighten, and inspire. Start with Inner Space, a podcast hosted by world-renowned psychologist Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen. Dr. Van Dahlen travels the world (or, for now, the virtual world) to talk with leaders in politics, film and television, fashion, wellness, and more about what we must do to take care of our mental health.
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