Violet Van Fleet ‘21, Feature Editor
In this uncertain period of our lives that will most likely be made into a lackluster ‘heartfelt’ Hollywood movie by 2022, most Americans are being exposed to the most heinous flaws of our society. While many are worried about the spread of COVID-19 and the problems it brings, such as maintaining distance and proper sanitation, there are those who are forced to work under the corruption of corporations—which is more prominent than ever during the COVID-19 outbreak—or risk losing their livelihood even though it could mean illness or even death.
Social media platforms like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and even Reddit are chock-full of horror stories from grocers, hospital staff, and essential workers who are isolated from their family members, who are watching their friends die, who are still not getting the basic respect and accommodations they deserve, and who are dying to provide for their family who needs it. Yet, there are still those companies, such as Gamestop, who leave their staff unprotected. Verbal and written praise will not protect our workforce from COVID-19, but unfortunately, this is not the mindset of many companies across the country.
Some corporations are claiming that they are essential and staying open despite Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order that bans all non-life-sustaining businesses from being open. Businesses that are found to be ignoring this order may lose their license to operate and be fined for employee and public endangerment.
One such corporation is Gamestop, a producer of video games, consoles, and other various accessories, who is claiming essentiality and fighting against being shut down despite the fact that by doing so they are contributing to the current global pandemic. Their employees report receiving a memo telling them to resist police should they come and try to shut their doors. The prospect of the entire world sitting inside and playing video games all day is too good to pass up, even if they kill a few workers in the name of profits in the process.
Already, we have seen the repercussions that the exploitation of workers by corporations can have. The largest example to date is the Smithfield Foods Inc., a pork factory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This is a COVID-19 hotspot with more than 640 workers testing positive linked to the plant that ends up accounting for 44 percent of the cases in South Dakota. Employees say that their superiors encouraged them to come to work in order to deal with the increased demand for meat since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Union owners criticized Smithfield for not introducing safety measures earlier, which could have prevented the spread of the disease. The state governments are stepping up, ordering nonessential factories to close. Smithfield, if it had handled its safety measures correctly early on, would still be in business and producing for the public. Instead, they are shut down, leaving hundreds of people out of work. Two of their fellow co-workers have already died.
Media coverage is also a large problem when it comes to exposing the corporations, often blaming victims and protecting the true perpetrators who, for now, face no repercussions other than a slap on the wrist. Take the case of Leilani Jordan. The 27-year-old disabled woman made national headlines when she passed away on April 1 after the grocery store she worked at, Giant Food, refused to provide gloves, masks, or hand sanitizer for the employees. Her last paycheck for her last day of work, given to her family, was just $20.64. NBC journalist Elisha Fieldstadt wrote that Jordan “died of coronavirus after refusing to miss a day working at her Maryland grocery store job.” This is horrendously slanderous and disrespectful misinformation. Her employers caused her death, not Jordan’s wish to make the world a better place. Her death was a glimpse into how the corporations around the country are showing their thanks for the heroes of COVID-19, both with dangerous work conditions and zero pay raise.
In a similar fashion, people all over the world are calling essential workers “heroes”. While this is true in that they are providing for the public in the midst of an invisible enemy with only scalpels and masks and scanners to defend themselves, many, such as a nurse from the Wyckoff Medical Center in Brooklyn, have described themselves, as “being martyred against [their] will.” If we are to give them the title of “heroes,” they need to be respected as such. They did not volunteer to work a global pandemic only worsened by the greed of corporations. These are our parents, siblings, children, who are dying trying to put out a vaccine, get food to those who need it, and provide care for the millions of patients worldwide. If we are to paint them as our saviors, they deserve support as such.
Millions of Americans are forced to stay at their underpaying jobs in order to support their family. At the end of the day, it comes to personal health or your family. A single mother will go to work if that means her poor children will be able to afford food that day. According to the United States Census Bureau, “In 2018, there were 38.1 million people in poverty.” In addition, the Century Foundation reported that “nearly half (42.4 percent) of working Americans make less than $15 per hour.” Millions of people across the country are struggling to support themselves on a minimum wage that does not fully provide for them to live as independent members of society. Many of these people, including grocers, are forced to come in for work or let their families starve, and organizations are exploiting this fatal choice.
Unions are important now more than ever. Contact a union representative, get organized, and demand better conditions. During this pandemic, we must band together and call for, at the very least, regulations to keep corporations from risking their workers’ health in the name of profit margins. The backbone of our society has been revealed as the essential workers, the last buffer between us and total chaos, who are suffering in our mangled and broken system for no reason other than to make the business executives’ pockets a little bit heavier.
Our essential workers—who are keeping the world on track while unnecessarily risking their lives because corporations want to make a few dollars—are humans, and they are being treated like expendable machines who do not deserve basic human rights. If the survival of a business depends on how many workers they can force into their doors without even providing paid time off or sanitizing materials, then that business deserves to go under and never recover.
Photo courtesy of Associated Press