“Paranoid,” #EssentialWorkers on the #FrontLine Fear for Their Lives

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 04/10/2020

Since our Twilight Zone existence began, the first few times I saw him, I thanked the young guy working in the fish department of my neighborhood market for being there. As time wore on, and the thank you’s became redundant, I asked him how he felt about working through this nightmare, “I’m paranoid, man. I don’t want to get sick, but I gotta pay the bills.” This is the reality for many workers I’ve spoken with–they’re grateful to have work when many of us don’t, but they’re afraid, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk every shift. They don’t see themselves as heroes, but they do want and deserve hazard pay and expanded benefits. The fear and danger for all frontline workers is real.

NYT Morning Briefing, 4/10/20: As the pandemic reaches meat processing plants, some companies have offered financial incentives to keep workers on the job. But the spread of illness is forcing plants to close. “My mom said the guy at the plant said they had to work to feed America. But my mom was sick,” said the son of a woman who worked at a poultry plant in Georgia. She died on Thursday.

I started this blog/book project to provide a voice for service industry workers. I never intended to portray workers with the overused moniker, ‘hero,’ but rather to advocate for mutual respect and decency between customers and servers. It really shouldn’t take a pandemic, huge snowstorm, or any great equalizer for people to be kind to each other and appreciate the value of the unsung humans who serve us every day. As my good friend, chef/restaurant owner, Greg Reeves often says, “It’s not that hard,” referring to common courtesy and ‘doing the right thing.’

First SNS blog post 10/29/09:

Some insecure, unaware humans will always be unnecessarily cruel, condescending, and selfish. That will never change. And the people who don’t shift their perspective about service industry workers when we reach ‘the other side’ of this calamity will never ‘learn’ because they’re closed to the opportunity, and consumed with protecting their established ‘worldview.’ Self-preservation of ideals is a strong motivator, and for some insecure people that often results in demeaning others to inflate their own sad sense of self-worth.

However, in addition to appreciating and recognizing our ‘traditional’ frontline workers (hospital, police, fire, EMT’s), many folks (at least for now) are valuing everyday workers on the ‘frontlines’ of our current crisis. Trash collectors, farm workers, transit crew and drivers, airline workers, volunteers, pharmacy workers, restaurant staff, mail carriers, truckers, food pantry workers, grocery store staff, elderly housing workers, childcare workers, warehouse and delivery drivers, and so many more people are stepping up and grinding their way through during this once-in-a-century calamity. Many of them are reluctant ‘heroes’ for putting themselves at risk to make a living and serve all of us.

“There’s always a level of fear. Is today going to be the day I get sick? There’s a bigger fear of how am I going to pay my bills and how am I going to take care of my family?” -Lisa Wilson, a Shaw’s supermarket worker and rally organizer told Katie Johnston at the Boston Globe 4/7/20.

Another worker at the same rally at Whole Foods in Boston’s South End stated, “We’re out here because Whole Foods owned by Amazon, one of the richest corporations in the history of our planet, is refusing to pay its workers more than $2 an hour hazard pay, is not providing its employees with adequate protective equipment, masks, gloves, etc.” –Boston Patch (Jimmy Bentley 4/7/20)

The additional $2/hour that Whole Foods is temporarily paying during this pandemic is disgraceful and insulting, given their wealth. You find out someone’s true colors are by their consistent actions over time, not by what they say, but by what they do. And that goes for corporations and company owners of all sizes, especially under duress. This crisis is laying bare the raw core, fabric, and soul of what people and companies are made of. These are times that define leadership, character, relationships, and culture within companies, and when it comes to loyalty, trust, and ‘having their backs,’ employees will never forget how they were treated.

Yvonne Abraham, a champion for the underdog at the Boston Globe, has written some wonderful pieces over the last few weeks, including one about pandemic priorities, ‘Lessons for life we shouldn’t soon forget’ on March 24th that opens with, “What would the world be like if the things that have become most important to us during this pandemic remained so? How would our lives look, if our values and priorities were frozen, right here?”

Her column concludes, “We would be more grateful for all we have, and more outraged at what others do not. We would – will – be happier on the other side of all this. If we remember.”

Amen. And please continue to be decent, kind, and respectful to every service industry worker you interact with the rest of your life. “It’s not that hard.” Thank you.

I love this piece by artist, Terrance Osborne:

Kenny Lopez on 4/5/20 for WGNO: Artist Terrance Osborne creates beautiful “Front Line” art piece: 

Please watch the video within the article where Terrance explains his inspiration for his work.

NEW ORLEANS– Famous artist Terrance Osborne has created a new piece of art, entitled “Front Line.” This piece honors the front line workers who are risking their lives in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
Osborne said this is a nod to Rosie the Riveter, and it honors all front line workers like doctors, nurses, medical professionals, grocery store workers, bus drivers, and emergency workers.
Osborne will be giving 1,000 posters to the local hospitals.  If you’d like to pre-order prints of “Front Line,” go to terranceosborne.com.

Don’t forget the Pluggers when this is over…

PLUGGERS by Gary Brookins 4/3/20. Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Brookins Art, LLC.

Ideas for blog posts, please email Patrick@servernotservant.com

Support for Server Not Servant via Venmo @Patrick-Maguire-32

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing.

2 Responses to ““Paranoid,” #EssentialWorkers on the #FrontLine Fear for Their Lives”

  1. Paul Maguire says:

    Patrick, nice piece. Your tenacity and regular publishing for servers everywhere gives you “blue collar credibility.” I’ve enjoyed reading your advocacy and in-the-trenches perspective representing bast practices for a lease 20 years. Many times I’ve been able to relate your points to my advocacy for people w/disabilities. I’ve decided to branch off and include my identity with blue-collar advocacy and adopted my brand as the “Blue Collar Scholar!.” I’ll continue my writing and media pretty much along the lines I’ve been doing (access, full-inclusion, meaningful participation, etc.).


    Blue Collar Scholar

  2. Jeff Toister says:

    Patrick, you make a great point that it shouldn’t take a pandemic for people to be kind to one another. Yet it does. My hope is we can make more of this kindness last.

    I’ve run a small social experiment every day in my neighborhood for years. While walking my dog, I smile and wave to everyone I pass on the street. Most greet me back. Some have gotten to know me and my dog. A few have become friends.

    There are many more people out walking now, but there’s also a much higher percentage of people who don’t wave back. It’s almost always people I’ve never seen before. I imagine they aren’t used to being in the neighborhood outside their car, and don’t know it’s polite to greet people you see. (My neighborhood is very suburban, so you typically only see a person or two at a time.)

    I’m going to keep greeting people. Hopefully, some of those newbies will learn over time that it’s a better world when you say “Hi” to your neighbor.

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