by Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.
Pax Christi USA Bishop-President
As we celebrate the traditional last long weekend of summer, let’s take a moment to think of the significance of Labor Day, and particularly about how laborers have fared during this COVID-19 pandemic. It seems like a long time ago when we watched New Yorkers honor health care workers by banging pots and pans from the windows each evening. That was a humble, honest and heartfelt expression of gratitude at a time when people were confined to their homes and fearful of the unknowns about the spread of this mysterious virus.
As the pandemic stretched on and on, some workers were deemed “essential” and were required to make their way to work each day without regard for their own health and welfare nor the consequences for their families and the people with whom they lived. Many of these workers were grateful to remain employed and feared losing their jobs in the near future in the midst of economic uncertainty. There were doctors, nurses, technicians, and other health care professionals who sacrificed but did not face the same anxiety over the future of their jobs, but consider how many nursing aides, cleaning and food service personnel there are in the world of health care, and also those who feed, clean, deliver, cook, farm, pick, harvest, work on utilities, deliver mail, packages and food, drive public and private transportation and perform a host of other activities considered essential to our current way of living. Those of us who had the opportunity to work from home owe a debt of gratitude to those workers who made it possible to do so and sustained us.
Many of these essential workers are part of the large category of people considered the “working poor;” people who put in long hours at difficult jobs, whose wages are stagnant and whose benefits are often diminishing or never existed at all. They include those who can’t afford childcare as they make their way to work on public transportation; much less do they have the ability to provide home instruction for their school aged children. Many of those essential workers are also undocumented and therefore must live and work in the shadows. Think about how the food that was delivered to your door or the food that you prepare in your kitchen or eat at a restaurant is grown, processed, packaged, butchered, cooked, shipped to market. How many people are involved in those unseen dimensions of the food industry? How many employers in the food service industry cannot find enough workers for any of the jobs to be filled, jobs from growing to the serving food are unfilled. Yet Congress still finds ways to avoid facing the necessity of comprehensive immigration reform and talking heads continue to spout anti-immigrant bigotry…