I glance out the window at the people in the apartment building across from me, typing at their computers, navigating their head sets and screen setups for their video conference work calls, and I consider our family VERY lucky. Just like many of my neighbors, my wife is able to work from home and keep our family going for now. We are healthy, cooking every meal at home from scratch and boredom and lack of socialization has been a challenge, but it’s a small price to pay considering how many others don’t have the same fortune and are facing seemingly insurmountable challenges as a result of this chaos. Everyday, I try to wrap my head around the legitimate hardship faced by so many around me, and how to help and highlight their struggle.
I live in a building where, during normal times, I see and interact with neighbors and other residents on a regular basis. While the interactions are usually limited to formalities and casual smalltalk as we’re loading in and out of our cars or waiting for the elevator, they do provide a small measure of socialization that is pretty much non-existent now, for good reason.
These days, on the one or two daily occasions where I leave my apartment to walk my dog or get some fresh air, I rarely see anyone. But when I do, it’s almost exclusively gig workers and drivers dropping off takeout orders, grocery deliveries or god knows what else is in those Amazon Prime vans that are perpetually making the rounds in our otherwise desolate streets. And while I’m happy that people are heeding orders and staying in their homes, with the hopes that it can indeed contain the spread of the virus, I can’t help but think about those people who are out there, putting their own lives and health on the line, usually for little pay, so that others can stock up their fridges and pantries or have nearly anything of their whim delivered to their front door.
During a time where only “essential” businesses are allowed to operate, this observations begs me to question and redefine the meaning of that word. For every person who has the incredible fortune of being able to work from the comforts of their home and earn their salary, how many more are out there who are picking fruit and vegetables, packing boxes, walking colossal warehouse floors, butchering meat, loading and unloading vans, restocking grocery store shelves, and driving their personal cars to deliver goods and food to the rest of us? What risks are they undertaking on a daily basis so that others can have the luxury to enjoy the fruits (pun somewhat intended) of their labor? Are their working conditions and compensation appropriate, considering the dangers they are facing daily in order to provide things that some, yet not all, of us could do for ourselves? By getting these deliveries to our homes, are we not outsourcing the risks to our health to someone else, for low pay, who – especially at this moment – really needs that job?
In my mind, our doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and hospital staff cannot receive enough praise or credit for everything they’re doing. They are on the frontlines of this crisis and being asked to do nearly the impossible, despite lacking adequate supplies, equipment, resources and support that would help them tackle the unprecendented challenges they are facing. And while I sincerely hope that this experience will teach us to create a significantly better system that prioritizes the health and safety of everyone in the future, I’m not confident this will occur.
So I’d like to take a moment to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone out there who is doing this “essential” work day in and day out, in order to keep our society running.
The next time you’re ordering your Caviar or UberEats takeout (which you expect to arrive hot and within the matter of minutes) or clicking through glossy Instacart images of gluten-free pasta or artisan salami (which you want to show up in your kitchen within a day or two) remember that there are real people making this happen. They are the “essential workers” right now.
They are putting their lives on the line to make the rest of our lives safer and easier. They deserve to be recognized. They deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, proper safety protocols and compensation.
Many of these workers are striking and walking out as we speak to demand better conditions. I imagine that will continue and I hope that the companies that employ them – that we all have a choice to support – will see them as essential as they truly are right now. Otherwise, health and exposure to COVID19 won’t be outsourced and grocery deliveries, cheesy pizza or spicy Thai takeout will cost a whole lot more, or become a thing of the past.