By DAVID A. COOK
Despite the great progress we’ve made recovering from a global pandemic, I find myself sadly writing this column with a somewhat less-than-sunny outlook on our current state of affairs.
The Local 655 family is made up almost entirely of workers that were deemed “essential” or “frontline” and many of them were rightly celebrated as “heroes” during the early days of COVID.
Now, sadly, it appears that some of the general public has already forgotten these workers and sees no problem in leaving them behind.
First, there is a disturbing trend in Missouri, where a newer and more contagious strain of COVID — the “Delta” variant — is surging. More than 10 percent of all U.S. cases of the new variant are right here in our state. Springfield and Joplin local health officials are sounding the alarm as the new variant is creating another surge in hospitalizations.
Second, for vaccinated individuals, COVID can be a threat, but it’s far less significant than for those who are not vaccinated. The current COVID vaccines do not prevent you from contracting the disease, but they help your body fight it off much easier. The small number of people we know that have been vaccinated but contracted COVID or its latest variant reported minor symptoms that passed with relative ease.
COVID REMAINS A SIGNIFICANT THREAT
For unvaccinated people, COVID remains a significant threat, and it is no mystery why the parts of the state where vaccine rates are low are the same parts of the state where hospitals and healthcare professionals are strained.
Your health is your business, and I am not going to climb onto a high horse and tell you what decisions you should make. All I’m going to say is that we have a huge body of scientific evidence that the COVID vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness, and individuals who are not vaccinated are far more likely to require serious medical care.
The overwhelming majority of the Local 655 family works in those same essential jobs that expose them to potentially thousands of people every single day. For the sake of those workers, I hope the general public would consider how their choices can affect others, particularly when we remember that some people cannot get vaccinated at all, either due to age or to an existing health issue.
MISINFORMATION, FLAT-OUT LIES HAVE COST LIVES
Misinformation or flat-out lies about the pandemic have cost lives across the state and country, and seeing that misinformation or lies sometimes come from the lips of our elected officials is perhaps one of the most infuriating things I have ever witnessed.
Hearing elected officials in Jefferson City take to the debate floor to make false claims about the dangers of vaccines is mind-boggling. Just last week our own governor referred to a federal program meant to get more information about vaccines to local communities as big government “going door-to-door to compel vaccination.” This is simply false, but we’ve seen the fear mongering spread like wildfire.
Not only have we allowed misinformation and fear to keep us from making the best choices about our health, but we’ve allowed the same tired old politics of the past to take control of our national discussions about workers.
PAY THEM LIKE HEROES
Remember those frontline workers? Remember those heroes? Well, some of them left those frontline jobs during the pandemic, or had those jobs taken from them when their business cut back on labor or closed down. When that happened, the federal government came in and provided additional relief in the form of increased unemployment checks.
Some of those workers collecting these checks realized something: that their jobs were critical to the public, but they weren’t being compensated like critical workers. American workers looked around during the pandemic and realized that certain jobs were essential to keeping our communities running, while others realized their work could be done from home. Pandemics have a way of really shining a new light on our priorities. More and more workers are leaving their jobs than ever and just this past April retail workers left their jobs in record-breaking number, citing the dangers of their work and the unfair pay and benefits they receive.
Those workers in fast food, retail, or restaurants made themselves abundantly clear: we deserve better pay, better treatment, and better benefits. Of course, the cynical politicians quickly jumped in to try to change the story. Soon all we heard was that people were lazy and wanted to be paid to sit at home.
FORCING PEOPLE TO TAKE BAD JOBS
Just like that, states like Missouri ended the increased benefits from the federal government. A few weeks later, it still hasn’t helped increase the workforce. Gov. Mike Parson said it was time to get people back to their jobs, rather than let them sit at home.
What Parson is saying is very simple: we have to force people to take bad jobs by taking away their economic security. This doesn’t make those jobs any better or put these workers in a position to succeed. All it does is continue a cycle of working-class poverty, where hard-working men and women get trapped in poor quality jobs that they can’t escape.
I can say with confidence that unions like this one aren’t going to forget frontline workers, especially when it comes time to bargain new contracts. We will advocate for pay and benefits that reflects the state of “hero” workers, and we won’t allow their sacrifice during this pandemic to be forgotten.