When I was younger, I saw essential workers as incapable and uneducated. I thought working at a grocery store or cleaning shops and schools did not contribute something “substantial” to society. I could not have been more wrong.
I came to realize how naive I was while I ran a club called “Unsung Heroes,” a student organization that highlighted campus workers through interviews. Getting to know their stories and realizing the sacrifices they made for their careers and families reminds me of essential workers who are forced to continue doing their thankless jobs during the pandemic.
We need to recognize and support the essential workers that are risking their lives to provide services that we use every day. This support must come from both the University and students.
Many donations like food and masks are provided to doctors, nurses and medical staff. This service should also be provided to essential workers who are risking their lives, and we can play a role in that effort. The University must also take this time to step up and give financial support to their workers who need to stay on campus to do their jobs.
The frontline workers of the pandemic are the doctors, nurses and medical professionals who are risking their lives working without adequate personal protective equipment. While they are not working under the same conditions as medical staff, we also need to appreciate frontline workers like grocery store workers, janitors and delivery employees that do not have the luxury to stay in quarantine during the crisis.
There are several ways to support workers, one being national hazard pay, which is additional pay given to those working in conditions that could result in a high probability of injury or death. If you do not have money to spare, smaller acts of service like thanking workers can show appreciation and encouragement. First responders cheered on and applauded medical workers at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. In New York, “quarantine clapping” starts at 7 p.m. and recognizes medical workers for their service. We also need to give a round of applause to the essential workers on the frontline, too, because this pandemic has shown that those people are needed for America to function.
While students and peers can show their support for all essential workers, the University is in a unique position to give tangible support and aid to their essential workers. More support should be given to essential workers at GW, whether it is financial incentives like overtime pay, sick paid time off or childcare. GW contracts some workers through Aramark, meaning it may not be able to directly provide support, but the University still employs workers that they can directly support.
GW is opening up Munson Hall to medical professionals, and I wonder whether GW is taking care of other essential workers as well. The University could invest more money in Pandemic Time (PND), a paid leave option that provides paid time off for sick leave. There are also financial resources for students like the GW Cares Student Assistance Fund, which assists undergraduate and graduate students facing financial hardship, and a GW mutual aid spreadsheet for students. These resources should also be extended to GW’s essential workers that are still working on campus.
When I lived in District House from junior to senior year, I began to greet and thank the janitor I always saw. While other students and I were studying in the basement, he made sure that the lights remained on even when it was 1 a.m. It was small acts of service that made me feel supported as a student. When I worked at Gelman Library, I was uplifted by my supervisor and had encouraging conversations with the janitor as well. At 2 a.m. while I complained about how much homework I had to finish, the janitor encouraged me and cheered me on. Even after talking to multiple campus workers, I was struck that their favorite part of their job is seeing students.
Although they might work long hours with lower pay and less benefits, campus workers at all institutions and essential workers across the country deserve to be recognized and taken care of as well as doctors, nurses and medical staff. Without our grocery workers, janitors, delivery workers and other essential staff, life cannot run as normal. The least GW can do for its essential workers is to provide more financial relief, and the least we can do is thank them and donate to services that can help.
Jina Park, a senior majoring in English, is a columnist.