Forgotten Workers Keeping America Running

Low-wage employees

BY S.T. Patrick

When talk of raising the minimum wage significantly in multiple states commenced, you could almost hear the collective sound of sighs and eye-rolls among those who instantly assessed the worth (or lack thereof) of their least favorite fast-food employee or retail cashier. Cries of the crudely judgmental, “They aren’t worth $15 an hour,” were all too common. Today, however, in the societal readjustment of the national Covid-19 scare, it has been these minimum-wage employees who have kept the country fed, clothed, gassed up, and served. While many of their higher-earning professional peers have been given time off or the option to work from home to protect the health of their own household, these service industry employees, our lowest wage earners, have been made to stay at work and serve their communities—even as they put themselves and their families at risk.

When the country went into mass hysterics in an Arthurian search for the holy toiletries, these employees drove and then emptied the trucks, stocked the shelves, and made the change at the cash registers. The moment Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a “stay at home” order, allowing only “essential” businesses to stay open, hordes of people attacked the stores in search of anything and everything. Grocery stores and convenience stores across the state reported record days for sales. Who were the “essential” employees when Illinoisans felt a coming crisis burrowing in on them?

Many stores have also opened or expanded delivery service, making sure the elderly can be fed. Stores without the logistics or labor to do that have set aside special before- and after-hours times when those over 65 can shop for their groceries and hygienic needs. The minimum-wage workers continue to serve them. Who’s valuable now?

There are over 2 million Americans reporting to work every day at stores that sell food and other household items. The Chicago Tribune recently called them the “new class of emergency medical workers.”

“Workers in food stores are the ones keeping this nation from going into civil unrest,” said John T. Niccollai, president of Local 464A of the United Food & Commercial Workers. “Because if there is no one working in the stores, we are in trouble.

In a New York Times article entitled “When Stocking Shelves Turns Dangerous,” journalists documented the fears that retail employees have about bringing the Covid-19 virus home to their children. Many are working 60-70 hours per week now, even while knowing that the more people that pack their aisles, the more they are at risk.

In the wake of the passage of a bloated $2 trillion stimulus bill, many are elated, if also uninformed about the tremendous waste within the bill itself. The general feeling is that people are glad that Congress came to an agreement. Yet, the American public hasn’t been kept afloat by Congress, and it hasn’t been kept afloat by bankers, hedge fund managers, or academics. For weeks now, the essential needs of Americans have been met by our lowest-paid employees. Do you still think these workers aren’t worth $15 an hour?

S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected]. He is also an occasional contributor to TBR history magazine and the current managing editor of Deep Truth Journal (DTJ), a new conspiracy-focused publication available from the AFP Online Store.