When asked, most people think of essential workers as the “frontline heroes”. The doctors, the nurses and the first responders. Delivery drivers may fall into that category from time to time. But the range of people who are taking care of us during this pandemic is much broader than that. “The reality is that essential workers in the midst of the coronavirus crisis are fast food workers, social workers, cleaners, retail associates, transit workers, home health aides, and even those who provide support for victims of domestic violence” (Vox). They are taking care of us 24/7 while we comfortably shelter at home, looking for new cooking recipes and going for walks.
Some of these essential workers are lucky enough to work in companies that do prioritize their health and safety. For example, Trader Joe’s has increased their employees’ benefits during this pandemic. The company is providing “two weeks of additional paid sick time, a $2/hour additional wage for every hour worked, limiting the number of people in stores, installing plexiglass barriers, and providing face masks” (Trader Joe’s). But not everyone is that fortunate.
Farm workers are among the biggest group of workers that are not given protection gear, health benefits, safety guidelines, and added wage benefits by their employers. Because 50 – 70 percent are undocumented, they are excluded from the coronavirus relief bill even when they are still paying taxes. They are facing huge economic burdens. The majority of farm worker families have both the mother and father working in the field. Thus, if they cannot leave their children with a family member they need to pay for childcare. Farm workers are also facing extra transportation costs according to United Farm Workers. Some companies do not let them carpool, and some workers “desperately want social distance vs. being in an enclosed and crowded car or bus” (UFW). In addition, some agree that even if they feel sick, they continue to go to work because they do not have any sick leave and thus need the money. “Lack of enforceable rules regarding social distancing, protective face masks, access to soap and water, and to environmental cleaning allow conditions to continue in which the virus can spread easily and quickly” (Eater).
It is ridiculous that the people who grow the food put on our tables cannot afford to buy those same food products. They put themselves and their families at risk every day, yet are not properly paid. “The irony: they’re essential, but they do not have essential rights” (CBS News). Even if they are now seen as “essential” by the federal government, they will always be a step away from detention and deportation. The worst part is that these “essential workers” do not feel essential at all – rather disposable and victims of the crisis. “To call them heroes is to justify their exploitation. By praising the blue-collar worker’s public service, the progressive consumer is assuaged of her cognitive dissonance. When the world isn’t falling apart, we know the view of us is usually as faceless, throwaway citizens. The wealthy CEO telling his thousands of employees that they are vital, brave, and noble is a manipulative strategy to keep them churning out profits” (The Atlantic). We know that all of them – cashiers, janitors, farmers, delivery-truck drivers – would trade places with any of us in the blink of an eye.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed multiple faults in our systems – politics, healthcare, food, and society. On the other hand, by exposing these faults it has given us the opportunity to revise the systems and make them better, more efficient and more resilient. We are finally recognizing the hard work the essential workers do everyday. It is why there needs to be an increase in political pressure to offer larger benefits to them. Greater social protection, paid leave and higher minimum wages are needed; not just for farm workers, but for all other essential workers such as meatpackers, grocery-store cashiers, warehouse clerks, janitors, and delivery drivers. They deserve our gratitude for taking care of us. Not only during this pandemic, but every day after it ends.
- Brownstein, Ronald. “Essential, and No Longer Disposable.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 7 May 2020, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/05/coronavirus-minimum-wage-paid-leave-biden/611281/.
- Corchado, Alfredo. “A Former Farmworker on American Hypocrisy.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 May 2020, http://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/06/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-essential-workers.html?mc_cid=794a4dc4b3&mc_eid=60c8de1a38.
- MASUMOTO, MAS. “Op-Ed: Growing an Appreciation for the Hands That Feed Us.” Civil Eats, 11 May 2020, civileats.com/2020/05/06/op-ed-growing-an-appreciation-for-the-hands-that-feed-us/?mc_cid=794a4dc4b3&mc_eid=60c8de1a38.
- Stewart, Emily. “Essential Workers Are Taking Care of America. Are We Taking Care of Them?” Vox, Vox, 23 Apr. 2020, http://www.vox.com/covid-19-coronavirus-explainers/2020/4/23/21228971/essential-workers-stories-coronavirus-hazard-pay-stimulus-covid-19.
- Wozniacka, Gosia. “Why Farmworkers Are Especially at Risk for COVID-19.” Eater, Eater, 14 May 2020, http://www.eater.com/2020/5/14/21257505/farmworkers-covid-19-coronavirus-cases-risks.
- Molinari, Laura. “‘We Are in Trouble’: Undocumented Farmworkers Help Feed America but Aren’t Eligible for Aid amid Coronavirus.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-essential-workers-undocumented-farmworkers-not-eligible-for-aid?/.