HOW HAVE NYC’S ESSENTIAL WORKERS BEEN TREATED DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

Since the COVID-19 shutdowns were put into place in New York City this past March, many workers in New York City were affected suddenly. Many workers were unfortunately left unemployed, some were luckily mandated to work-from-home, and others were forced to still work in the public, in proximity with different people daily, at risk of infection. Back in June, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union which represents 900,000 clients stated that about 82 grocery workers have died from COVID-19, with about 11,507 workers infected. In October, MTA reported that 126 workers died from COVID-19. Analysis from New Amnesty reported that 7,000 healthcare workers died from COVID-19 globally.

In the United States, Congress argued back and forth about stimulus packages for all Americans devastated by the pandemic. While Congress settled on a very skimp $1,200 check and unemployment to “aid” Americans in rent, mortgage and bill payments, Congress went on numerous vacations and deliberated for months on the latest stimulus package, which is proven to be even worse than the first one. Many Americans still were forced to work and sacrifice a COVID-19 infection, and be a possible spreader, even with PPE. This ended up being the case, especially in New York City. It became a tradition to make noise every evening at 7PM to show encouragement and praise to essential workers. Even though the gesture is nice, many essential workers still are being mistreated by employers, people they service, and left without any added compensation or benefits for their sacrifices.

I surveyed 7 essential workers in New York City. These are some of their experiences.

A correctional health staff working in Queens, New York:

Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No hazardous pay. All I got was free hotel stay from April to June. This was granted to help prevent spreading COVID to my household.

How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how? The employers treated us weird at times, and other times with respect. The population we serviced were very intense and sometimes hostile. After spending time and trying to help we appreciated about the population.

What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Helping people get access to care in life and death incidents.

How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? It gave me time to isolate from the general population which I felt good. It also made me feel more resilient in which I can use as motivation in my personal life

A Case Manager working in Manhattan:

Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No

How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Not drastic, a lot of changes. It actually works in my favor because I get to work at home which I prefer.

What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Some co-workers are becoming very complacent and lazy

How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? Working more independently actually helped the most

A Food Worker in Staten Island:

Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? Hell No!

How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how? Terribly by employers because they didn’t care about how hazardous it was. Not making sure the business followed Covid related laws and restrictions. The customers were rude and ungrateful that businesses are even open during a time like this but I guess privilege and entitlement go hand and hand if you’re white and live on Staten Island. Out of every 25 customers you do get a nice customer that makes your job worth it in the moment if you do enjoy customer service like I do but at this point it’s not worth it.

What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? I was laid off of work due to getting tested for COVID when I didn’t have any COVID related symptoms. I was out of work for a total of three weeks with no pay because I had to wait for my results. When I finally contacted Labor Laws that’s when I found out it was put into law that if you are laid off due to Covid related reasons your job has a disability clause to hold you down(forgot the name of it) until you can go back to work but my job never gave it to me, never told me about or made it accessible. Keep in mind you only have a certain amount of time to fill out those forms before the time period to file is expired. I was at a loss because I was uninformed and I am still behind on bills because of it.

How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? It’s scared me because as an essential worker you see how careless people are when interacting with you and other people. It’s ridiculous and people need to be more aware of restrictions and staying inside. When the pandemic first began I worked at a Moes Southwest Grill. Please tell me why I was getting customers that came in almost everyday and some even confided that they lived in the area which means they could’ve gotten food delivered. Those same idiots are the reason this thing is still alive and breathing. Having to argue with people while at work who don’t have pre-existing conditions to not wear a mask but just don’t because of their own ideologies is trash as fuck.

A Heating Maintenance worker in Manhattan:

Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No

How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Employer was very unprepared and protocol was very slow to roll out in dealing with pandemic. Overall less in person contact when troubleshooting problems. No negative or positive change about the same.

What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? My employer sending email telling workers to ask tenants do they have COVID or anyone living there and if so they should wait in another room. And worker to open window when servicing apartment. This was a terrible idea and was put out in April or May 2020.

How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? Very depressing, less interaction with friends and family. Went from panic or great concern in beginning of COVID outbreak, but now like oh well it is what it is.

A Child Welfare Case Planner who worked in the Bronx and now in Brooklyn:

Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? Nothing at all

How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Negatively, staff concerns ignored by management

What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Being required to do a home visit the day before the shut down in March or face disciplinary action, because I wasn’t able to get in contact with my doctor to get a letter regarding my pre-existing respiratory condition. My doctor was a first responder to the pandemic so I’m sure they had other priorities, but management did not take my concerns seriously unless I had a letter.

How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? I was super sad. Isolation impacted my mental health negatively as I lived by myself at the time.

A Downtown Alliance Security Guard in Manhattan:

Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No

How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how? I’ve been treated poorly by my employer. They give us the bare minimum of protective gear. They hardly want to give us overtime. Also Allied Universal says they can’t give us the hazard pay but has money to buy a whole company for billions of dollars.

What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Seeing all the businesses close down.

How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? I caught Covid 19 back in late March.

A Mathematics teacher in The Bronx:

Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No

How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Having to do double the work to meet the needs of my school. My Principal interest was more on having the schools open then the safety of staff and students. It’s been more negative being blamed for everything. Countless hours at a computer losing motivation to plan. I feel less of a person.

What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? My anxiety has been getting worse as days go by.

How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? It’s difficult to be positive and feel like a human at the same time. When just so much work is demanded at this given time.

All New Yorkers working in different positions and boroughs, but with many things in common. None of these survey participants were given hazard pay, some were struggling with mental health, exposed to or infected with COVID-19, had concerns ignored by management and ALL expected to perform and produce during a pandemic disgustingly handled by the capitalist class. As an essential worker myself and someone sympathetic to the causes of workers, we deserve more than symbolic praise. We deserve unions that will represent our needs and not sell us out to our employers, and actual benefits that protect us while working in a pandemic that none of us expected or prepared for. With New York strong as a slogan pushed by our beloved governor, we have lost so much and gained so little, while the capitalist class increased their gains at our expense.

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