What Happened To Hazard Pay For Essential Workers?
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Politics and Activism

Wait, What Happened To All That Praise (And Pay) For Essential Workers?

As hazard pay drops, the hazard itself persists

Wait, What Happened To All That Praise (And Pay) For Essential Workers?

Working retail in 2020 is an experience unique to our time. Amidst the pandemic, my time at work is pretty much my only time around other people. I don't know what most of my coworker's actually look like save for the occasional unmasked encounter in the breakroom. But the strangest distinction of working in a pandemic is the general acknowledgment that we cannot function without jobs like delivery drivers, shelf stockers, warehouse fulfillment, and cashiers.

Within the first two months of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, back in March and April, these jobs were exalted from overlooked to the backbone of society. While some were able to stay at home during the scariest and most uncertain moments of the pandemic, essential workers showed up every day to keep supplies moving. Grocery stores began to post signs thanking their employees, countless advertisements praised non-medical essential workers as the saviors of the pandemic, and many large companies began adding hazard pay of around $2 to their employees' salaries to account for the risk.

But the PR only lasted so long. As COVID-19 cases went down from its midsummer peak, so did people's fear of the virus and so did their expired love for the essential worker. Companies like Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger stopped giving hazard pay as the pandemic went on.

What changed? As schools opened and the holidays approach, cases have only increased. What makes today any less risky than six months ago? The public is out and about. The essential worker ad campaigns have run dry. Put simply, these crucial jobs are once again expendable.

Even at the earlier peaks of COVID-19, workers criticized their employers for not keeping them safe. While most stores require masks and have supplied employees with protective equipment, many waited too long to enforce mask mandates and protect their employees. It's almost farcical for workers to be treated in such a low way just months after being called heroes.

One day, I helped a customer find a pack of disinfectant wipes. To my surprise, she thanked me twice, and as I wondered why, she added that she appreciated people continuing to work during the pandemic. I had never expected any praise for doing my job, and I could sense the sincerity in her words, but I couldn't notice how her mask left her nose exposed.

As we go into the holiday season, buy what you need with care. The person bagging your groceries, the person delivering your boxes, and all the middlemen you never see are still just as at risk for the virus as they were in March.

The word "hero" lacks significance without respect.

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