If you’re ‘essential’ enough to work through a pandemic, you’re essential enough to be paid a living wage

Nat

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Dec 11, 2018
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If you’re “essential” enough to work through a coronavirus pandemic, you’re essential enough to be paid a living wage and to have access to paid sick leave and affordable healthcare.
You guys deserve a serious raise,” I told the worker who bagged my groceries. “Did you get one?”

She didn’t look up.

“We got a onetime bonus,” she eventually answered, her eyes still lowered. “It was a couple of hundred bucks.”

A couple of hundred bucks to put her life on the line to prevent mass upheaval and panic.

Deservedly, much praise has gone to the healthcare professionals who are battling COVID-19, many of them without sufficient safety gear. But there are other “essential” workers in harm’s way too. And for their heroics, they are, by and large, paid next to nothing. They have limited access to affordable healthcare. And paid sick leave, where it exists, is still often frowned upon due to inadequate staffing.

And it isn’t just grocery workers. Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island are walking off their jobs Monday in pursuit of more protections from coronavirus and fairer pay. Instacart workers nationwide are doing the same.

Employees of Whole Foods announced plans to strike this Tuesday, to demand the company pay for coronavirus testing, provide paid leave for ill and self-quarantining workers, as well as hazard pay for those working during the pandemic.

Good for them.

If you’re “essential” enough to work through a coronavirus pandemic, you’re essential enough to be paid a living wage and to have access to paid sick leave and affordable healthcare.

Here’s the thing: Working conditions for these employees are always dangerous. Coronavirus has heightened that danger, but it was always present.


Seasonal influenza alone still kills anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 Americans a year. We’ve internalized those deaths as the cost of doing business. But that’s absurd.

We pay millions of workers poorly, and if we offer them health insurance, the deductibles and copayments are often high enough to render the coverage useless. To keep costs down, stores are intentionally understaffed, so that when a worker stays home sick, his or her already overworked colleagues have to pick up the slack. And so people come in when they shouldn’t.

 
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