The praises lavished on essential workers from all corners of media, family, and friends is heartwarming as many Americans hunker down following social isolation instructions from local and/or State leaders.
Government officials, celebrities, business leaders, and members of the media are showing gratitude to millions of newly crowned essential workers who continue to go to work, as opposed to the workers who have been allowed to work from home during our new reality – a global pandemic that is still spreading across the globe.
Americans are rightly celebrating essential workers but like everything else in America there are different degrees of appreciation and praise depending on the type of interaction the workers have with the general population.
Doctors and nurses, healthcare and senior care workers are rightly being celebrated for their willingness to be on the front lines against a virus and an inept government.
But lower on the socio-economic essential worker ladder are those hourly workers who are critical to society though chronically underpaid, unseen, and unappreciated.
While stay-at-home workers are adjusting to being home all day every day – and we’re seeing their fun, boredom, anxiety, and creative skills – essential workers are tasked with doing exactly what they were doing prior to the start of the pandemic: Go to work and take care of the middle class and ruling class (who can be the same people).
I spoke to five essential workers to get a glimpse of their average day. The workers are in the following roles: Grocery worker, senior community concierge, Lyft/Uber driver, Barista, and restaurant worker.
This is an amalgam of the average day:
Morning – “Things have changed. I have to get up earlier to get to work to help stock. We are constantly running out of things and a few of our team quit or were fired due to the constant schedule changes. I’m getting more overtime so the pay is good but my schedule is now being changed almost daily and the overtime isn’t optional. I have no time to tend to my own life – bills, online classes, even my own shopping! And at first people were kind – anxious but kind. But now people are being pushy, short-fused, and demanding we “Check the back” for more toilet paper. The toilet paper hoarders buy up all the toilet paper by 9a every morning. We open at six. And the thing is, when we open, it’s the stay at home people who are our first few waves of customers and by the time they are finished, the toilet paper is gone and other hard to get items are picked over. Every evening I disappointingly tell another essential worker that is coming in the late afternoon, or early evening is too late to get toilet paper. But many can only come after hours. It sucks. Essential workers can’t get essential items.”
Concierge from hell – “I love my job during normal times. It’s hard and seniors and their families can be demanding, but I love getting things done. But right now we are on lock-down so most families are not supposed to visit unless it is for medical reasons. But they don’t care. They want to see their parent and nothing will stop them so I talk to rude and demanding family members all day. They are exhausting. I have to ask that they fill out a form, sanitize, and I take their temperature. Many balk and try to make excuses for why they shouldn’t have to fill out form or have their temperature taken, but I have to make them do it anyway, so they take their frustration out on me. None of our seniors are sick and the only way they’ll get sick is a relative will bring the sickness to them. I explain that simple fact to family members all day. Most are okay but so many become upset and saying something like: “Oh, am just stopping in for a moment.”
Yes, but your moment at target you touched a bunch of stuff, you don’t have a mask on, your kids were out at their friends last night, and now you want free reign in our community?
I am working more hours, I am wearing a mask all day which is annoying, and I can’t call out sick. I am in school and online classes started and the start times are different than prior to the pandemic so my schedule is all messed up. And I live with my parents who are older and they are afraid of me getting them sick because I’m working with seniors and they are threatening to kick me out unless I quit. I’m still waiting on the stimulus – I should get the maximum amount. I wanted to pay off a credit card but now I may have to use it to find a place to live.”
Tip your barista – “I love my job. I can go to school right across the street so it is convenient and I get enough hours to make a decent living. I live at home so it is easier for me than for some of my coworkers. I don’t like how my schedule changes so much. And now that every order is drive-through it is actually harder and more work. Seeing someone when they are ordering is different than just hearing their voice. Some people are just rude. They are ordering multiple drinks and snacks, changing their orders, and some want us to explain what we have, how drinks are made and things like that. I see very few of my regulars so that’s one reason lines move slower, I guess. I wish people would make up their minds before they drive over. Just go online and see what we have so you don’t have to hold up a line of twenty cars while asking what is in the oatmeal, or what’s in a caramel macchiato. Also, please tip. Our tips are way down and it may only seem like a dollar to you, but it adds up.”
What’s for Dinner?: I don’t know how long our restaurant will stay open. We are now only open four days a week because we just didn’t have enough business. And our menu is half of what it was. We are only doing curbside pick-up. That seems simple but customers can even make that hard. People try to change their orders, ask for additional items, or like this one person – try to change their entire order all at curbside. The post-mate drivers are kind and the easiest customers. We get to know some of the drivers. We exchange stories about how awful people are, the bad tipping, and how broke we are. I used to make pretty good money but now… I’m grateful because most of my teammates have been laid off. We still sell drinks but nobody is drinking much. It’s like a ghost town around here where all the bars and restaurants are. The stimulus ain’t shit. And it’s only one-time? I’m already three months into this pandemic and it sucks and our response sucks. I am essential so I can’t get unemployment help. But being essential is a fucking joke. Nobody cares, they just want their food. I haven’t gotten a raise, my hours and days are cut, and my tips are way down. And you know what else? Most people don’t wear their mask in the cars, of course, but then they get out of their car and come to our door with no mask. We should get hazard pay. Everybody who is an essential worker should get something extra. Don’t tell me thank you; pay me more. I got bills just like you and since I’m essential, I guess it means you want and need me to do what I am doing, right? Give me more money then.”
Driving After hours – My business is way down. The first month was good, actually. But after a month or so business started to slow down and now it’s awful. I still get business but my take home pay has dropped by… a lot. People are nice, though. I still get tips. But now I have to drive fourteen hours or more just to get a decent take home. I have a baby and a new home so I need the money. The stimulus won’t help at all, but I’ll take it. Neither company is doing much to help besides advertising. I don’t know how much longer I can hold out with business so down. I made most of my money on airport runs and of course bar/restaurant, and big events, concerts, sports and stuff. But right now.. nothing. I just signed up to drive for Postmates but so has everyone else. I’m essential but funny how that doesn’t mean my company is paying me more or folk are tipping better.”
Are you an Essential Worker and would like to share your story? Send Myron an email at words(at)deardeanpublishing(dot)com.
© 2020 by Myron Clifton. All Rights Reserved (except for images and statements of others).