By Cassi Bruno
Special to the Pittsburgh Current
What an honor it’s been to be one of the very necessary people who is keeping this country going during this “unprecedented time.”
Yes, a year into this shit-show and I’m still seeing the word “unprecedented” on every newsletter I receive from my job: a temp agency that assigns me work as a substitute teacher in a number of preschools and daycare centers in the Pittsburgh area. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I don’t mind working with a mask and gloves 8+ hours a day. In fact, I don’t know why we weren’t wearing them the whole time. I just can’t say society is treating those of us who work in childcare as people who are necessary to the success of our country right now…
It’s easy to feel underappreciated when you work in childcare… or hospitality, or customer service—basically, any field that’s been considered “essential” this past year. It’s the nature of the job, right? Okay, now add in a highly contagious, deadly virus. Can you imagine dealing with a “Karen” or a “Kevin” who won’t read the dates on their expired coupons while also trying not to catch Covid-19? I can because I’ve always worked “essential” jobs. Essential workers have been told all year how important and absolutely necessary we are, while the rest of the world has refused to get with the program. We’re called “heroes.” Sure, heroes that are overworked and paid minimally. Do you really think the cashier at Forever 21 applied for that job to save society?
Our jobs might require us to paste on a smile and a cheerful demeanor, but most of us aren’t exactly pleased with the treatment we’ve received over the course of this pandemic. I’ve taken it upon myself to make up a little list of things that have been pissing me off as an essential worker in hopes to spread awareness so that my non-essential friends and acquaintances can understand why my already-short temper is almost non-existent after a year of this foolishness.
So, here are 8 Things That Might Piss You Off if You’ve Ever Been an Essential Worker During a Global Pandemic:
- Lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). When you work with people between the ages of zero and six, you come into contact with bodily fluid at least once a day, if not thirty times a day. Most childcare centers do have paper masks on hand, and that’s about it. Don’t worry, just in case those aren’t available, I regularly get sent instructions on how to make my own mask out of a bandana. Many essential workers come into contact with hundreds of people per day. If you’ve worked any of these jobs, you know how difficult it can be to call in sick. Why wouldn’t these companies provide their employees with high-quality protective equipment?
- No hazard pay. Okay, so our employers can’t provide adequate PPE, maybe they could at least increase wages so we can purchase our own… or maybe they could send us a bonus of some sort…? No? Look, it would even be nice to just see some sort of appreciation for working during a global pandemic. At this point, I’d be happy with a $10 gift card to Long John Silver’s.
- No Covid testing. See, I follow a lot of celebrities and movie stars on Instagram who are doing a lot of very important work right now, like making multi-million-dollar feature films that nobody will see, because we’re all suffering through a global pandemic, and movie theaters are closed… Anyway, I notice these actors and influencers are required to get tested regularly for covid-19 to ensure everyone’s safety on set while they’re making content. I just think that’s a neat idea that should extend to schools, factories, care facilities, etc. I mean it would have been cool if my job tested their staff, like, once.
- “The customer is always right” mentality. The customer might be right 1% of the time, and that’s being generous. The issue with this mentality has been magnified during the covid-19 crisis, because now the customer believes that they are not only right about a non-existent sale, they also think the manager at Staples is conspiring with the deep state to take away their freedom. Specifically, the freedom to not have a mask on at Staples while they’re purchasing toner and toilet paper.
- Your non-essential friends’ social media. At my essential job, I am not permitted to work with any symptoms related to covid-19, so like most of my essential friends, I am trying really hard not to get sick at all, and when I can shelter in place, I most definitely am. It’s now common knowledge that large gatherings are responsible for the rapid spread of covid-19, and yet every weekend my Instagram feed is filled with pictures of parties and bonfires. If anybody should be partying, it’s essential workers after dealing with the public all day, not Chad and Stacy from HR who don’t even wear pants during their zoom meetings.
- Your non-essential friends telling you they’re “bored.” To quote Kourtney Kardashian: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.” I get it. Staying home all the time sucks. Isolation is terrible for mental health. It’s just hard to hear about when you’re working forty hours a week and panicking for days anytime a toddler coughs on you.
- Your non-essential friends telling you how much they miss “people.” Starbucks is hiring.
- Not being prioritized for the vaccine. According to the CDC, the first phase of vaccinations was supposed to be going to front-line healthcare workers and seniors. To be clear, I totally agree with this. Let’s keep our hospitals safe and running properly by protecting our healthcare professionals and the population most vulnerable to hospitalization. Now that the vaccine is becoming more available, however, there are more and more people eligible to be vaccinated who don’t fall in the front-line healthcare worker or senior category. Who are these people? Apparently, OJ Simpson is one of them. The affluent: celebrities, athletes, and administrative/corporate people who work from home have all been able to sneak themselves into the first phase of vaccine rollout. How do I know? None of them know how to read a room and have been posting relentlessly on social media about how “blessed” they are to have received the vaccine.
When the first stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, essential workers were “heroes.” Politicians were praising us, commercials were thanking us, and even Alicia Keys wrote a song for us. For a year, essential workers have been told how valued we are, and yet little has been done by our employers, the government, or the public to protect us. Most of us are working with the public for forty-some hours a week, and we haven’t heard even a guess from our employers or the government about how or when we will be vaccinated. According to The Center for Economic and Policy Research, essential workers are disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants. Their research also finds that about 16% of essential workers live with or are individuals over the age of 65, and about 36% of essential workers have children to care for at home. If the country wants to continue to use language like “heroes” when referring to essential workers, then essential workers should be treated as such. Until then, it’s pretty clear that the term “hero” is just a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to keep the poorest workers content with the treatment they’re receiving, and I can tell you now, it’s not working.
So, if you know an essential worker, please understand that we are dealing with being sacrificed for the economy right now, and we’re a little reasonably pissed off. We don’t want to hear about your parties, and we don’t want to hear how bored you are. I most certainly don’t want to be called a “hero” again, unless Marvel is ready to buy my script about a preschool teacher who gets peed and puked on every day during a pandemic and heroically doesn’t lose her mind.
Cassi Bruno is a stand-up comedian and substitute teacher living in Pittsburgh