You know it’s 2020 when you find yourself reading an entire blog post retelling an entire episode of a streaming show you don’t even watch. Yes, we are at that point of the pandemic.
As we all know from Homer Simpson, humour is most effective when it’s true. Anyone who has worked retail during these covid times can relate to the plight of ‘Amy’, the store manager of a fictional big box chainstore called Cloud 9, played by America Ferrera in a show called Superstore.
Described by The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon, as the pandemic takes hold, Amy is “pulled in a million different directions attempting to decipher corporate’s vague directions on how to ensure the safety of her Cloud 9 store employees, herding the customers who have gone practically feral in a panicked reaction to the news, and also training via constant Zoom calls for her new corporate position in California, which she’ll transition to once it’s safe to travel.”
Yet even while Superstore proves “we are actually ready to laugh about things, provided the jokes are smart enough and coming from the right place”, the ‘Essential Workers’ episode also “illuminates how being forced to spend so much personal time and money on health and safety is affecting the morale of employees who are already scared.”
Cut to real life, where a recent study of US grocery store workers found they tested positive for coronavirus with an infection rate of 20 per cent – versus 1.3 per cent in the surrounding community. As CTV reported, “Workers who had ‘significant direct customer exposure’ – cashiers, cart attendants, supervisors and those working with fresh food – were found to be five times more likely to test positive than the receivers, cleaners and stockers who rarely if ever interacted with customers.”
Being essential during a pandemic is complicated. What do you do when your job has become hazardous to your health? Well, for one thing, you can expect a bump in pay.
In October, The Globe & Mail reported that Home Depot “implemented paid sick leave benefits and is providing workers with an ongoing weekly bonus – $100 for full-time workers and $50 for part-time workers.” Similarly, Lowe’s, RONA and Reno-Depot received discretionary bonuses of $300 for full time staff and $150 for part-timers in October, August and March, with a temporary $2/hour wage premium from April to July. “Meanwhile, Chapman’s Ice Cream in Markdale, Ont., recently made its $2-an-hour pandemic pay raise permanent.”
For some workers though, no amount of pay compensates for the fear of contacting a virus and bringing it home to their families. No amount of pay can compensate for arguing with renegade customers who view masks as an affront to their personal freedom to catch and spread a deadly virus.
As a society, it is not just employers, but all of us as consumers, who owe front-line and essential workers special care. We owe them our best efforts to keep them safe while doing their jobs. We must safeguard them with our masks, our social distance and our gratitude for their service. Keeping essential workers safe is the only way to keep businesses functioning, virus rates down and have a decent chance at beating this pandemic.