In a lot of ways I think I’m one of the ”lucky” ones. I’m still getting a paycheck. And my coworkers and I are getting bonuses, as well as penalty-free sick days. Not paid sick days, but penalty-free. I know it’s really pathetic to feel grateful for scraps that are thrown down from above. But at least I’m getting the scraps. And if all that falls through, I have a family who is financially able to support me at least for the time being.
At the store, we’ve made some changes that might help stop the spread of the illness: wiping down the shopping carts, putting out more hand sanitizer, reducing our hours, building a second make-shift break room in the back hallway to discourage crowding during our lunch hour. But I’m not sure any of that actually will do any good. I kind of feel like we are medieval peasants mixing herbs and hoping one of them will stop the plague.
Most of my co-workers are younger than me, and I’m in my twenties. A lot of them are high school students. I don’t think it’s fair that kids are being asked to assume the risks of going out and keeping society running, keeping the shelves stocked, manning the cash-registers. They don’t seem to really understand the seriousness of the situation. They goof around whenever they’re in the break room, the way me and my friends in high school would goof around in the cafeteria. Of course they don’t heed to the signs I posted asking coworkers to wipe down their tables after they’re done eating, because they’re kids. I can’t blame them. They really should be at home.
I’m really worried about the cashiers. They don’t have a choice about standing face-to-face and up close with dozens of customers coming through their lines every day, touching all the items the customers have touched, standing in the front of the store where the traffic is the heaviest. They’ve been given vinyl gloves to wear, but I’m not sure that’s going to help.
I wish there were more maintenance workers on staff. There are only four who work day shifts, and only two who are in the store at any given time. This is not enough even during normal times. I’ve been wiping things down like crazy, especially the doors and the time-clock machine. I wish I had time to wipe down everything during my shift, but I don’t. So I concentrate on things I think are important, or, things I am told are important, which are often aesthetic and not safety-related.
I had a conversation with one of my managers that disturbed me a couple weeks ago. I told him I needed to take time to clean the break room thoroughly each shift.
He told me, ”Appearance for the customers is more important than appearance for the staff.”
I told him, “It’s not about appearance, it’s about safety.”
And he answered, “Customer safety is more important than staff safety.”
I wasn’t really sure how to process that. But what can I expect?
I’m really scared. I’m the only one in my family who isn’t quarantined, so if they get sick, it will be because I gave it to them. I try not to think about it. I listen to podcasts while I work to keep my mind off the current nightmare. I pretend I’m an army nurse in World War II, and that makes me feel a bit better. “Keep calm and carry on.” That’s all I can do at this point.
I’m scared, but I’m also looking at the silver lining. Times of crisis are opportunities for change. During this crisis, I’m looking around and I see people helping each other and supporting each other and loving each other in ways I never imagined possible. I see people considering action and activism they never thought to do, daring to want things they never dared to want before. I see daily acts of bravery and love for neighbors. I feel hopeful about this situation in the long run. Things won’t go back to the way they were. We can’t let them, and I don’t think they will.
I want to live in a world where human life has value, where ordinary people are not treated as disposable afterthoughts. I want to become more active in the socialist movement because I desperately want to make this happen, and don’t want to spend the rest of my life sitting on my butt when I could be helping to build a better world.
This is why I applied to join Socialist Alternative. Because a better world really is just around the corner if we actually work towards it.
Originally posted at WorkersSpeakOut.com.