Two dollars is nowhere near enough

Trevor feels low-level essential workers are the unsung heroes of the pandemic

Grocery store and other low-level essential workers are truly the unsung heroes of this pandemic.

I can’t say it any clearer than the title of this column. These $2 increases to grocery store workers are insulting. You aren’t being paid enough for the sacrifices you have been making and the risks you (and by extension any immunocompromised individuals in your family) have been taking over the course of this pandemic.

It frustrates me to no end the platitudes we hurl at the lower-paid spectrum of essential workers. Since everything in this pandemic seems to be likened to wartime analogies, I’ll use one too: if nurses and doctors are the generals and lieutenants of this battle, then it is the grocery store workers and gas station employees who are the infantry.

They’re the individuals who had to be berated constantly for a month due to supply shortages which had nothing to do with them (no Karen, despite your insistence of some massive conspiracy there isn’t some mass room where they keep all the yeast and toilet paper) all the while providing service with a smile during the most devastating pandemic we’ve faced in the last century.

That’s not to discount healthcare workers, who have just as essential a role to play in all of this, but rather to say that for all they do for our communities I think it’s a damn shame how short we have sold the essential workers at chain-owned grocery stores and gas stations.

I’m not trying to compare one worker to another, because you can’t. All essential jobs are, well, essential to our recovery as a country. But here’s the thing: it’s a lot easier to start your day with a comfortable living wage versus knowing that not only are you essential and that you’re going to be berated by multiple customers throughout your shift, but that you’re also woefully underpaid for the job you’re doing.

“But we should be so gracious to the big grocery stores for giving these significant raises to their employees when so many others are being laid off!”

Seriously? Give me a break. Grocery stores have seen virtually universally unprecedented sales over the last few months (especially in late March to early April during Toiletpalooza in North America). I would consider myself overwhelmingly in support of capitalism and the free market, but this is just ridiculous and, frankly, I’m surprised the market isn’t getting more pushback from the consumer with regard to how these people are being treated (though in retrospect this makes sense because it’s tough to boycott groceries — it’s the same reason we always have high gas prices in the region).

Think about it this way: not everyone during this pandemic is going to need a doctor, but unless you’re one of the 0.05 per cent of the population who has a self-sufficient homestead, you can be damn sure you’re going to need to go to the grocery store and fill up your tank.

Again, that isn’t to say one worker is “better” or more valuable than the other. Rather, they serve very different purposes within this pandemic and without either we would be so screwed that the problems you have been fretting about over the last few months would look like a paradise compared to what we’d be dealing with.

I like to try to offer solutions when I ruminate on things like this, but sadly I feel there isn’t much I can do aside from use my own platform to speak in solidarity with those who are performing these essential services we all take for granted and only being paid modestly better (or in many workers’ cases, not better at all and sometimes with added workload to compensate for layoffs).

Grocery stores, pay your employees more. You can afford to do it, if only for the course of the pandemic while your sales are disproportionately high.

Managers, don’t throw your hands up in the air and just blame things on corporate red tape. Fight for the workers you get paid so well to manage.

Workers, know that even though you aren’t getting law enforcement-led parades once a week and that it might not feel this way, you are just as important as the doctors and officials you see daily on the TV.

Oh, and your well being is worth way more than two dollars more per hour.
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