Labor Day 2020- There is Still Something to Celebrate
In a year where nothing is normal, and many are working without the traditional structure of a Monday through Friday job in the office, major holidays can sneak up on us. Memorial Day didn’t feel much like the beginning of the summer season when most children had been home from school since March. You may hardly have noticed the 4th of July.
Labor Day, too, has lost its punch this year. Its relationship to the beginning of school is unclear at best right now. The Monday “off” may just feel like another day just like the last 177 days of being in our homes.
Yet the core value we celebrate on Labor Day- the recognition of the important contributions of all who work- is maybe more poignant than ever in 2020.
We have celebrated the front line health care workers who showed up every day to care for people with COVID, often reporting to facilities that were overwhelmed and unable to provide adequate protective gear. These health care workers are not just the doctors and nurses, but the whole gamut of people who keep a hospital working and make sure patient needs are met.
We have also seen our lowest paid and least celebrated workers- hourly employees of grocery and other retail outlets deemed “essential” during the shutdown- put themselves at a risk they probably never thought was part of their jobs by showing up everyday to sell us the things we needed to survive.
It was no different for those of us who chose curbside pickup or home delivery. Those nice people who brought groceries to my door or to the back of my car had to go through a supermarket picking out the food I ordered, which others who may or may not have taken precautions had touched or breathed on. They had to interact with on-site grocery store staff who spend their days exposed to whatever the public brings into the store. The delivery workers had to stop at multiple other homes along their route, where people may or may not have been masked when they met them at the door. Their willingness to take these risks put food in my home, as it probably did for many of you.
Then there are our teachers. They have had to grapple with a sea change in what their work- and their days- look like in a pandemic. Many were trying to learn how to teach remotely while doing the same thing other parents were- trying to supervise the remote schooling of their own children. Many were suffering the same feelings of loss from being separated from their classrooms that their students were experiencing. Many are still unsure how they can do what they love to do with children in a continued pandemic.
There are also many essential workers that we do not see. People working in manufacturing of things that were deemed essential. The people who work behind the scenes to fulfill orders from places like Amazon. People in food processing and packaging- often refrigerated environments that assist the spread of the virus with employees working in close proximity to one another.
Even those of us who could work remotely during the shutdown have had to grapple with fundamental changes in what work looks like. Maybe you were doing your office job from the kitchen table while also trying to watch your children. Maybe you were struggling to find ways to keep up with your responsibilities without the tools available in the office. Maybe you and your team had to completely rethink communication and collaboration in a virtual environment so that your company could still serve its customers. Whatever the situation, millions of workers made the unplanned transition to remote work in March, and have kept countless services available to consumers since then.
Finally, there are the self-employed, or dba’s, or solopreneurs. Just because you are not drawing a paycheck does not mean you should not be celebrated on Labor Day. You are working as hard as anyone to find and meet people’s needs, in good times and bad. You have been doing it this year without a safety net, in the face of sometimes existential challenges to your businesses caused by COVID.
2020 has been a dark and frightening year. On top of COVID, we have been challenged with the urgent need to address issues of racial inequality and bias in our country and in our communities. People lost loved ones, and many fell through the cracks, sometimes tragically. We have a lot to still figure out about our world, and how to live in the COVID era and make sure people can earn a living and that all families and children have the education and support systems they need and deserve.
But there is also something powerful and beautiful about everything that has worked. Sick patients got care. Our infrastructure remained intact. In the end most of us got access to the food we needed, even if it wasn’t always what we wanted at the moment. Lights stayed on. Elections happened, and will continue to happen. Our trash and recycling still got picked up. Businesses of all kinds found ways to continue serving their customers, and often new and creative ways to stay viable in a new environment. There are critical conversations and reforms happening in many workplaces and communities about equality and inclusion that are long overdue. Our social and economic safety nets like unemployment and food assistance have largely (with some hiccups) answered the call.
In short, there are still reasons for hope, and reasons to be grateful for that which has given us reason to hope.
If you are annoyed with a union for demands it is making in this re-opening period, remember that the work of the labor movement we celebrate on Labor Day was responsible for so many of the benefits and protections we take for granted every day, including some that have prevented even greater calamity in our current economic climate. You don’t have to agree with any particular union position, but we should all take a breath and remember that in advocating for their members they are doing the job that has historically improved conditions for everyone and helped make it safe for people to do the important work that they do, especially in challenging times.
It is also important to pause and remember that credit belongs to all of the people who show up every day, in whatever way they can, to do the work that has kept us all going throughout the pandemic. That is, quite literally, every one of you who may be reading this post.
We will get past this year, and we will be stronger. For now, we want to wish everyone a happy Labor Day, and offer our sincere gratitude and appreciation for the part you play in the engine that keeps us all moving forward, even if we may stumble from time to time along the way.
slnlaw is a law firm in Sharon Massachusetts providing business, employment law and estate planning services to individuals and small businesses