It’s Social Justice Saturday time again. There’s nothing more critical to ensuring a just and safe society than ensuring that our essential services are in place when we need them most. That would be those services that are essential to keep our society functioning safely. Those services we expect to be available to one and all. And surely those people who provide those essential services should be able to perform those essential services in a safe environment and with fair compensation. Hmm, not so much so in a pandemic.
Let’s see, what do we mean by essential services? My guess is that everyone’s list will vary somewhat. My essential may not necessarily be your essential. But we can probably agree on several services.
In “normal” times, essential services would include:
- Keeping the power on. When the power goes out, most of us can no longer do much of anything. Keep warm or cool. Run our devices and the Internet. Watch TV. Read once it gets dark. Use medical equipment. Cook. Keep food frozen. No doubt about it, our power is essential. Kudos to the linemen who repair outages, often in unpleasant or even dangerous conditions. This never stops being essential!
- Keeping Internet and cell service running. Goes without saying. For better or worse, that’s our world. Essential!
- Accessible and reliable health care. Confidence that when we have a medical emergency, doctors, nurses, and other health care support workers are available in fully functioning hospitals to take care of us. That’s for sure!
- Essential public services. Police, firefighting, garbage collection, clean water provision, etc. Services our local and regional governments provide through our taxes to keep us safe and healthy. These never stop being essential.
- Public transit. Millions upon millions of people rely on public transit to get to work, school, errands, visiting, etc. We typically think of that essential service in terms of the equipment and infrastructure rather than the workers who keep it going. In “normal” times. Now we know better.
- Teachers and day care workers. The well-being of our children is in their hands.
- Rail and Airlines. We don’t even think about these services not being there. We usually just complain about scheduling delays and long waits at terminals. Boy, has that priority changed?!
In “normal” times we don’t think about grocery stores or drug stores as being essential services. They’re just there.
In “normal” times we don’t think about borders being closed and what that might mean for keeping stores and hospitals supplied with necessary items.
In “normal” times, maybe we don’t spend enough time thinking about what’s really important.
So, after 5 or more months of living in an alternate universe, what does an essential service mean to you? Who precisely is providing that essential service? And do they receive adequate compensation, including benefits, to reflect the service they provide and the risk they take on our behalf?
Who has kept your world going during lockdown and closed borders? Who’s been essential, even critically so? In my neck of the woods, I’d say it’s been:
- Doctors, nurses, LPNs, other professional healthcare workers, especially in hospitals
- Care workers in long term care homes
- Day care workers (for other essential workers’ kids)
- Long distance truck drivers (crossing the border as essential workers) to keep our food supplies and other supplies coming
- Local truck drivers making home deliveries that allow us to stay home
- Grocery store employees
- Drug store employees
- Cleaning staff everywhere
- Public transit workers
In virtually all of these cases, the people involved had never considered going to work as possibly putting themselves in danger. Until now.
In almost all of these cases, the work environment was very stressful, as people undertook their work uncertain as to whether or when they would come into contact with this scary virus.
In many of these cases, the people involved went to work every day to care for people who were very sick and unable to have the comforting physical presence of their loved ones. In many instances they worked with insufficient PPE. Overwhelming emotional stress for all concerned, not to mention exhaustion.
In many of these cases, just to add to their stress, the people involved took the brunt of rude customers who vented their frustrations on employees.
Many of these people were in situations where they couldn’t afford to stay off the job, even when the stress was overwhelming, and in some cases even when they became infected (and could infect their families at home).
And in way too many of these cases, these workers – who we depended on so we could stay safely at home – are being paid minimum wage, with no benefits. No sick leave. No health insurance. Our society needs to do better.
What about you? Has your view on what constitutes an essential service changed? Would your list of essential services in your region be different from mine? Does this experience/awakening lead you to believe there should be any changes in the way any of these services are compensated or regulated?
Let’s work hard to ensure that all our governments and communities will have learned enough from this pandemic to be better prepared for the next one, and better prepared to take good care of all our essential workers. Because not only is this one far from over, but there will be another. Mother Nature can guarantee that.