When Did Essential Workers Become Expendable?

Image credit: Alan Tennyson / Wikimedia Commons

Remember the applause for hospital workers, fire fighters, bus drivers, and other essential workers in the early days of the pandemic? Those essential workers continued going to work, to keep things going, to take care of those stricken by the virus.

In some countries, people banged on pots, in others they flashed their lights in their apartments, or stood on their balconies and cheered and clapped to express thanks to essential workers. In the U.S. it was quieter. But those workers were valued. And too many died, infected by the virus.

And now? They’re back in the shadows. Apparently so far back in the shadows they don’t even count, as those who head transit agencies (and probably drive to work) cut bus lines and inner-city train lines because ridership is down.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, BART is the train system that gets people around quickly. But because ridership is down to 12-13 percent of normal, those who make the plans, based on fare revenue, have come up with a number of possible scenarios – all of which will make those riders’ lives much harder. 

Further reducing weekday service, eliminating service on weekends, or closing stations may look okay on paper. But people have to get to work. Or they have to be someplace to assume responsibility for children, the aged, or the sick. No one rides for fun.

What are the priorities of this society? The workers who operate these systems, and those who are essential for other services, can be ignored now that the rich and powerful are tired of caring? 

One thing that this pandemic has taught us, and that we can’t forget, is who is really essential and who isn’t, who makes this society run and who feeds off our labor. We have put up with too much for far too long. Those in positions of authority can give the order to shut a station down, reduce the frequency of service, or stop operations on the weekend. But those who are essential can shut everything down to get what we need, if they choose to. And that day should be coming sooner than later.