Essential Workers: They Feel More Sacrificial


Walking down the Christmas aisle at a local Walmart

Lucas Nogueira, Journalist

Health care workers, grocery store workers, delivery workers, first responders, child-care providers, Pharmacy clerks. Bus drivers. Homeless shelter staff, the people who make your food and so many more fall into the category of essential worker, a name given to describe those whose services are necessary for our society to function properly and smoothly.        

  During this pandemic according to the Economic Policy Institute, 50 million-plus front-line workers have been put at a high risk of contracting coronavirus, which consists of 19 million workers earning less than $15 an hour, 2.2 million of which earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25. They are the ones who face customer harassment and aggression due to the enforcement of masks, the ones whose job makes social distancing to avoid contact with hundreds of people a day nearly impossible, the ones who are underpaid and while companies may run their commercials showing appreciation, a majority of them report that they feel unsafe and undervalued. 

“Calling me a hero only makes you feel good,” says Adam Engells, Retail Associate. The federal government and most employers have faltered when it comes to giving hazard pay to low wage workers who account for nearly half of the frontline essential workers according to Hazard pay is additional pay for performing hazardous tasks or tasks that make one go through physical hardships at work. This pandemic has changed the criteria of what makes a job dangerous, though up to debate, one wouldn’t consider working at a place like Walmart to be a dangerous job, but with the risks of Covid-19 professions such as bus driving, warehouse jobs, grocery employees, retail workers and more have forced workers to be more vulnerable to the virus. “We need and deserve hazard pay, we don’t feel safe,” says Debbie Houhilon, Retail worker. Essential workers highly favor hazard pay, and a poll by Harris Insights & Analytics reveals that more than 75 percent of Americans support providing hazard pay or additional compensation to workers in essential jobs.

“Customers care more for the items in the store than the human beings working in them,” says Engells. According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, an estimated 87 percent of US households acquired food through large grocery stores or supermarkets in a typical week. The same people who make going to the store to buy our essentials possible are also the same people who have been physically, mentally, and verbally assaulted and harassed and unfortunately, there have been those whose lives have been lost for simply telling someone to put a piece of fabric around their nose and mouth.

 Corporations have seen sales soar but in the majority of workplaces, the wages stay the same. CEOs and executives want larger bonuses and stock options. This is not to blame solely on corporate greed but the incompetence of the federal government to aid its citizens during a health and financial crisis. Although, the news and arrival of a vaccine have shined a light at the end of the tunnel. Americans have been continuously facing pandemic fatigue, have lost their jobs, and are eating away at their savings. A one-time check of $1200 is not enough. Stimulus packages around the world include the UK: 80% of workers’ salaries, Denmark: 75% of workers’ salaries, South Korea: 70% of workers’ salaries, Netherlands: 90% of workers’ salaries, Canada: $2k per month, and Australia: $1k per month.