A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 50

Are postal workers an endangered species? Photo credit: Labor Notes

Monday, April 27

Today, four Democratic members of Congress began advocating for what they term an Essential Workers Bill of Rights. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Ro Khanna, and Deb Haaland appeared online as a group to urge proper protective equipment, better pay, and sick-leave rights for such essential workers as those at grocery stores and pharmacies, office cleaners, postal workers, delivery drivers, and frontline health care employees. Pressley cited the involvement of two unions, Service Employees’ 1199 unit and Local 509—and significantly, Haaland cited the efforts of “gig workers,” the marginal and often part-timers who do much of this work. Such people are “overwhelmingly women of color,” added Pressley.

The very limited involvement of organized labor in this effort is telling: Few of those we now understand to be essential workers are represented by unions. Why? American unions hardly represent any workers anymore—officially, only 10.3%—and unions do a very poor job of sticking up for those they are supposed to represent. 

The big and very regimented United Food and Commercial Workers Union—“the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries,” according to the union website—is a remote and grey dues machine, whose non-charismatic officials don’t rate even a nod from Warren and the other members of Congress. 

Several meatpacking plants, some of which are represented by the UFCW, have been singled out as among the most horrific hot spots of the pandemic.    The UFCW seems proud of the achievements it has made for such workers during the pandemic: These range from one-time bonuses of $300 to $500 at such companies as Pilgrim’s Pride, Hormel, and ConAgra to a $2 per hour pay increase covering the period from late March to early May at Cargill. At this last company, there will be increased factory-floor spacing between workers and no co-pays for coronavirus testing.

A one-time bonus of few hundred for risking your life? Well, thank God for small favors, I guess. 

Dinner: avgolemono soup (with meat!) and a green salad.

Entertainment: One episode of Wales-based policier Hinterland.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 39

The current season’s hot fashion accessory.

Thursday, April 16

One possible answer to yesterday’s quiz: Pangolin paprikash.

Today, we’ll be doing two loads of laundry. This, after all, is one reason we fled the city: It’s always crowded in our apartment building’s laundry room. There can be no social distancing, and I’ll bet few are wearing N-95 masks there. 

I’ve already run the vacuum cleaner in our bedroom and both bathrooms. Showering and shaving were major accomplishments, given that almost no one is going to be seeing me.

Emily is in the dining area, searching online for face masks. Two days back, she thought she had it figured out, but then something she read made her concerned that we’d need masks with better filters. So she’s still searching.

Many, many vendors have gone into the mask-selling trade. Lots are sold without filters–you have to get them separately somehow. (Vacuum cleaner HEPA filters or coffee filters are a possibility.) And most masks are being marketed as fashion accessories. They’re available in urban-guerrilla black, camo, distressed denim, floral patterns, with the American flag, in hospital green, and in red with white polka dots. There are masks with sports team logos, some with tropical motifs, dogs, little cats, and birds.

I desperately need a haircut, even though Emily thinks my unkempt coif is cool. Maybe I will order something from Amazon’s supply of hair clippers. Then, I could draft Emily to attend to my locks. Whoa. Many clippers are out-of-stock till late May.

As has been often pointed out now, truckers and shipping clerks are among the country’s most essential workers, making it possible for the rest of us to shelter in place. In addition to the Peapod grocery delivery, we’ve received two FedEx shipments of pharmaceuticals and three post-office deliveries–contact lenses, eye drops, and powdered milk. Whatever Trump may think, the post office folks are going above and beyond the call of duty, carrying packages right up to one’s door.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos, with his 11% of Amazon stock, has seen his fortune grow by $24 billion during the COVID-19 lockdown. Soon, he’ll be able to bail out the Fed singlehandedly.

And United Healthcare has made $5 billion in profits during the past three months, mostly because they haven’t had to pay for routine doctor visits and elective surgeries, which the public has avoided during the pandemic.

Who else is happy? In many places, taking the dog out for a walk is regarded as an acceptable reason for disregarding stay-at-home orders. But a National Geographic poll finds that hasn’t made a lot of difference to under-exercised canines: 25% of people are taking their dogs out for more walks these days, but 20% are going for fewer walks. At the same time, 43% are playing with their pups more and only 4% playing less.

Dinner tonight will be the frequently made lentil soup along with corn muffins and a lettuce and spinach salad.

Entertainment: Jeopardy and two episodes of another unsatisfying Finnish series, Deadwind.