Black labor, white privilege.
It is the untold story of the COVID-19 pandemic that ravages our country and our world. We’ve heard about the disproportionate cases and deaths of African-Americans with the coronavirus, but what we haven’t heard are the stories of the laborers who are on the frontline of this pandemic.
Verses and Tiles, through the viewpoint of the Makin’ A Difference show, has reached out to Black workers throughout the country to gain first-person perspectives of working conditions. This is an ongoing commentary, which means that if you are on the frontline, you too can send your experience(s) to email@example.com.
The participants are anonymous out of the very real understanding that these stories may draw ire from companies and corporations. Here are their stories:
Trucker/Independent Insurance Broker
One of my Medicare clients reached out to me because she was in need. She is poor and doesn’t have a car. I took her five bags of groceries because the food bank ran out of food. I can’t eat when I know other people are hungry. My wife, who works with me, is still going on Medicare appointments to help seniors and social disability beneficiaries with Medicare prescription drug plans. It can be challenging because 80 percent of our clients are below the Georgia poverty level. We also help people pay their Medicare part B premiums, which are $144/month. People still need help and we’re going to help them.
As far as trucking, it’s been a little tough because I’d rather be home with my family. At the same time, I know the country needs us to work, so I’m proudly fulfilling my duties to make sure I do my part to keep this country moving. Trucking has also been a little difficult because we don’t have the luxuries we used to have with all the closures, but we’re doing our profession with a sense of duty.
One thing that makes me upset is people with resources are stockpiling while poor people can’t even get the basics. People need to be mindful of those who go without during situations like this.
First, my job doesn’t supply my coworkers and I with masks or sanitizer, even though thousands of (coughing and sneezing) folks are coming in and out of the store all day. I see other jobs getting two more dollars an hour, and we only got a one-time $300 bonus, with part-time folks only getting $150. I don’t blame my store manager, I blame the company. They only care about the dollar bill. They’re hiring temporary workers now, only to keep us from getting overtime, and they’re going to cut everyone’s hours as well.
During an average eight-hour shift, you’re dealing with customers all day long. Customers come from different background and have differing attitudes. You come in and try to replenish the shelves as much as you can. A major change in terms of what I do is the concern(s) about safety. Some employees are either scared to have too much contact with customers, or are scared to cough because they are afraid of how customers may respond. Everyday, we come to work and risk the chance of bringing “The Rona” home to our families and children. The morale, which wasn’t great to begin with, has dropped because management is complaining along with the labor force. Management wants to see the store shut down and protections for employees. We were told that we don’t have to close because we sell “essential” goods. I can tell you personally, nothing out there is essential. A few weeks ago we did over $1 million in sales, and $200K of that was in the garden center alone. Home decorations did $68,000. Why were we really open? That’s not even 10 percent of the sales. As a result, you have an environment of people just not coming to work, which puts added pressure on the folks who are coming to work. There are arguments because employees are on edge, and customers will be customers, which is to say they are impatient. Because I’m in management, I’m supposed to “educate” the employees. I’m supposed to tell folks that “things aren’t that serious” and “to be safe” with a bunch of fancy words. I call that the “corporate sprinkles.”
I’ve actually had a reasonably positive experience. The clinic that I work at has been on a soft lockdown for the last 2 weeks. Anyone entering the building, staff included, is stopped at the door and screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Only new HIV intakes, emergency visits and lab appointments are allowed in the building. The clinic director and other decision makers cut down staff significantly, allowing most providers (doctors and nurse practitioners) to work from home using our telemedicine capabilities . The only physician present in the building usually is the clinic director. The pharmacy has switched to mostly mail order. Our staff was cut significantly, also. Considering we were NOT prepared for this at all, I think it’s working relatively well.
My job is big on sales, which means we won’t be closing any time soon. I don’t even think the customers are that worried about it, being that they’ve been in the store every day from the time we open to the time we close. Basically, it’s been like Black Friday everyday. I’m not sure if the managers or people above them are that committed or focused about our safety. They have gave us a little bit of breathing room, saying we can call out if we feel sick or have symptoms but we would need to go to a doctor for that excuse. Overall, I think just because of the name and success of the company, the incentives could be way more considering we’re putting our health at risk. I won’t complain. I will continue to do what I can for myself to make sure I’m not affected by the virus and staying safe as possible while continuing coming to work until or if we do close down anytime soon.