Today we are sharing an episode of This American Life: “Essential.” In it we hear from a range of workers in the service industry who were deemed essential and had to keep working during the first wave of the pandemic. We hear New York MTA station agents talk about the fear of going to work while so many were getting sick and dying — MTA workers suffered more COVID deaths than any other agency in New York City, with 171 deaths. We hear from a food server in Phoenix who could no longer justify why she was going to work risking her life just so rude customers could drink margaritas. We hear from a McDonald’s worker who goes on strike for the first time after getting sick of being mistreated for so long. He explains how a major turning point for him was when McDonald’s offered free “Thank You” meals to essential workers, but offered nothing to its own essential workers who were serving the meals. When asked what changed for him, he said, “Well, you only can slap a person so many times. And you only can do a person wrong so many times.”
Linked below is the episode that provides a small window into some of the lives of workers all across this country, especially those whose stories rarely get to be heard.