EDITORIAL: Thank essential workers - and promote policies to support them

2020-04-18 | The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

April 18-- Apr. 18--Every day we hear the latest COVID-19 numbers, new cases, hospitalization and deaths. But the number of Iowans who deserve our gratitude every day during this crisis are countless.

There are, of course, the health care workers on the front lines in clinics and hospitals working tirelessly to save victims of the virus while fighting to stop the spread among their own ranks, and families. There are staff members at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, working to stop the spread in both affected facilities and centers that have been so far spared. Our first responders are still rushing to help and protect.

Mental health care providers are still on the job, among other providers still dealing with Iowans' health care needs beyond COVID-19, while risking their health to do the job. Medical researchers and technicians are preparing test kits and searching for treatments.

Beyond the healers are scores of workers keeping food on our tables. Grocery workers are more essential than ever, keeping shelves stocked, checking out customers and filing pickup and delivery orders. Staff in scores of restaurants are still reporting for work to fill drive-up and deliver orders with hopes of keeping their establishments afloat.

Behind the stores and restaurants is the food supply chain. As we've seen this week, meatpacking plants have become epicenters of pandemic, with hundreds of workers infected. As of this writing, two workers have died of the virus. Other facilities are threatened.

Delivery drivers are rolling through neighborhoods multiple times daily, delivery goods for Iowans now reluctant to go shopping. Behind the drivers are warehouse workers and others still on the job.

Our teachers are working to adapt to the difficulties of our new normal, delivering lessons online as schools remain closed and their students shelter at home. Public employees are still delivering mail, picking up garbage and yes, unfortunately, plowing snow.

There are so many, too many, to thank, from the mask-sewers to the neighbors who check in with the vulnerable in their neighborhoods. Iowans are stepping up, even as we stay apart.

But there's also so much to consider as the pandemic shows us which jobs are essential. Too many of these workers toil for low pay, without basic benefits such as sick leave and in lousy, unsafe working conditions. Their right to bargain collectively for better conditions has been curtailed. Some of their managers have too often sidestepped regulations and laws intended to protect workers. Too little has been spent to effectively enforce these rules.

Legislators, whom we apparently haven't needed during the pandemic, must reconsider a long list of needed labor reforms, from cracking down on wage theft to restoring collective bargaining rights and raising a minimum wage that's remained flat for more than a decade. These measures are essential. And that's how Iowa can say thanks to so many of these essential workers in a way that truly counts.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com