Opinion | Words aren’t enough praise for essential workers

Antonia Languilla, Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a grim reminder of how important essential workers are. Many have resorted to calling them heroes—someone who is highly admired or has outstanding bravery. These heroes that society deemed so important were granted the award of unpaid sick days, long work hours and the looming dread of having to deal with uneducated mask deniers. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to praise essential workers, time and time again it has done nothing but acts as a flimsy gold star. We need actions instead of words.

When the first wave of coronavirus swept across Evanston, you could see the lines wrapping around Trader Joe’s and Sam’s Club, the empty toilet paper aisle and people panic buying. At the front line of all of this chaos were essential workers. 

My mom’s company that she works for sends her random stuff every once in a while to thank her for her hard work and putting her life and safety on the line,” sophomore Tarek Anthony explains. “I feel like that doesn’t mean enough. It’s a nice gesture, but snack baskets and chocolate bars can only go so far. We need to give these health care workers what they need such as higher pay and more time off.” 


Many essential workers have been forced to subject themselves to working into the late hours of the night. We saw this with nurses and doctors urging us to flatten the curve, already dealing with being low on supplies, plus having hospitals stacked with patient after patient. The grocery store workers, janitors, teachers have all been bound into the stress their job holds. 

Stop and Shop, the supermarket company was one of many to cut down on the so-called “hero pay raise.” Their decision put an end to the 10 percent pay raise they gave to over 50,000 employees. 

Walgreens said labor costs and frequent store cleanings increased overall expenses and contributed to a loss in the third quarter. The company, which had provided full-time workers with a $300 bonus in early April, has not announced plans to provide any additional bonuses and is focused instead on cutting costs,” states the New York Times.

If we were to give essential workers a pay increase, it would have to be effective and permanent. No, take-backs. I can’t describe the immense rage I feel knowing that essential workers not only have to fear for their health being at sake, but that they only do all of this for a measly seven dollars an hour. 

However, not only do essential workers need to be paid correctly. They also need paid sick days. Strangely enough, those issues go hand in hand. Essential workers not having a high pay wage have caused many of them to refuse to take sick days or days off. Simply put, they cannot afford it.

Over 33 million U.S. workers—almost a quarter of the workforce—do not have access to paid sick leave,” CBS states in this article. “The problem is especially bad for the lowest-paid employees, many of whom are essential workers. As a result, up to 90 percent of employees have reported that they sometimes go to work when ill to prevent losing a day’s pay or being disciplined or fired.”

You have essential workers putting their physical health on the line just so they can afford this month’s rent. That’s sickening. Employees and Employers suffer from colds, flu and other viral illnesses, this is troubling to the fact this is a  contributing factor to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having paid sick days not only decreases the spread of coronavirus but also helps add more meaning to the “hero” title.

Having low pay wages and limited sick days are not the only things essential workers face on a daily basis. Lack of respect seems to be one as well. The politicization of mask-wearing has now caused many store employees to now risk heated and even violent confrontations when they remind customers to cover their faces. A plethora of videos featuring grown, usually white women, arguing with workers. 

So the question arises, what can we do? Until companies start agreeing to increase pay wages and provide sick days, the only thing we can do is wear a mask and be kind to the essential workers we know and see. Simply, slow the spread, respect essential workers and stop being selfish.