Why “essential” workers are treated as disposable


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Grocery store clerks. Fast food cashiers. Hospice care workers. Bus drivers. Farm workers. Along with doctors and nurses, these are the people who are putting their own lives at risk to keep our society functioning day in and out amid the worst crisis of our lifetimes. We call them heroes, we label them “essential,” and we clap for their brave efforts -- even though none of them signed up for this monumental task, and many of them lack basic healthcare, paid sick leave, a living wage, cultural respect and dignified working conditions.

How did things get this way? Why did we end up with an economy that treats our most essential workers as disposable? And what does an alternative future of work look like?

Mary Kay Henry is the president of the Service Employees International Union, a 2 million person organization that represents a huge segment of America’s essential workers. If you ask a traditional economist why essential workers are paid so little, they’ll talk about marginal productivity and returns to education; ask Kay Henry and she’ll talk about something very different: power.

Book recommendations:

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Lead from the Outside by Stacey Abrams

The Dowry by Lorraine Paolucci Macchello

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