EDITOR’S NOTE: The Devil’s Advocate has decided to protect the name of the student who works locally with the public to protect her position in her job. This student has been verified by the editor.
With over 38.6 million Americans seeking out unemployment, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy in the United States. With almost every state being on lockdown, minus the few exceptions who lifted the stay at home order early, many people have lost their source of income, and aren’t able to work. They have to stay home and aren’t able to do what they’re passionate about.
Among this though, are the essential workers who are still at work. Everyone in health care is on the front lines, and are risking their lives everyday to make sure we stay safe, and are risking their very own health for the safety of everyone else. Besides that, unlikely heroes have risen from the pandemic. The workers that so many looked down upon before the pandemic – the fast food workers, grocery clerks, chain store employees, and everything else in between, are hard at work. These are people who are either working to support their family or themselves, and barely getting by. And now they have a new concern: unruly customers.
Speaking to LHS students who are out in the community working in big box retail and fast food, I have found they are witnessing how little people care for their own well-being.
I recently interviewed Elizabeth, a senior who works at a box retailer still open amidst the pandemic. What she shared is disturbing.
“We are getting about 2 extra dollars of hazard pay, but with that time and half now is only time and a third on Sundays. We were supplied with 10 single use masks, and my hours have dropped significantly. I could’ve easily been working upwards of 30+ hours a week, now I barely have 8 hours for the week. I’m grateful for the masks, but we will have customers come in who have corona virus and tell us at the last minute. And even if they aren’t serious, we have to sanitize and bleach the entire store and see where exactly they went to make sure everything gets thrown out and sanitized. It’s a lot to know that people around you are able to give you something that the entire nation is scared of.”
Next, I asked her about how customers have been treating her throughout the virus.
“It’s really frustrating seeing how people act towards you,” she began. Often she has to shop for customers who refuse to wear a mask, so they wait outside the store. “I’m literally at work to help you, and make sure you find everything you need during times like these. It’s irritating to be treated as if you’re diseased and below them. I have to run around the store and find all the things you need, bring it out to your car because you’re too busy making a political statement by not wanting to wear a mask so you’re not allowed in the store, then you’re going to disrespect me for how long it takes when there are hundreds of others doing the same thing?” Elizabeth asked. “I’m happy to be working, it gives me something to do, but the way everyone is treating me, like I’m infected myself and using it as a reason to treat me like I’m nothing, is really scary at how society thinks it’s okay to act. It’s always the same people who want to act like they care on social media, then God forbid we don’t have their favorite body wash in stock.”
This concern has been echoed by countless students who find their job more challenging in this time period.
Some people might say, “If you feel that unsafe, then don’t work.” For many essential workers, going on a leave of absence isn’t likely – they won’t have their jobs once this is all over. Some people working are working to keep their mental health in check, as society tries to learn a ‘new normal’.
People are grateful to have jobs of course, but where are the people who are grateful that people are working during this? Put up as many signs are you want, make as many Facebook posts as you can saying how thankful you are for essential workers, but until someone actually puts our safety first, essential workers would kindly ask just to be treated with respect that they deserved this entire time – before and after this pandemic. Essential workers like the student I interviewed and myself are just as scared as you, please be patient as we all work through these scary times.