Instacart’s response included an announcement of plans to distribute health and safety supplies to its full-service workers and a new default system for tipping on its app, claiming this would make tips higher and more consistent. The company said it already instituted retroactive sick pay for its in-store workers affected by the coronavirus. Hourly workers could receive bonuses between $25 and $200, NBC News reports.
For Sinyai, the labor network’s executive director, the coronavirus pandemic shows that low-income workers are “often the last to benefit in good times and the first to suffer in hard times.”
“Those who continue to work and draw a paycheck are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of white-collar workers who can often do their jobs online; firms lay off line workers before they lay off managers. In contrast, those who work with their hands are usually unable to work from home. This crisis has brought mass unemployment to retail workers, hotel workers, airline employees and restaurant servers and cooks.”
Pope Francis’ “Urbi et Orbi” of March 27 made a special mention of those working under the threat of the coronavirus, saying:
“It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.”
Sinyai said that Pope Francis' words recall those who “soldier on during the crisis, enabling the rest of us to shelter in place.”
“These people remain at great risk of infection, illness and death so that we may live,” he said. “It’s shameful that OSHA has not yet issued an emergency workplace safety standard protecting workers from unnecessary risk during the pandemic.”
Obure appreciated that the Pope involved everyone, “from the doctors down to the cleaning people.”
“It’s all the people working and interacting together to get through this thing,” he said. “It’s when we divide ourselves up and not reach out that we really get in danger.”
“We really have two choices; we can either hunker down in our houses and hope that we survive this or we can, even in the physical distancing law that we are in, take action,” he added.
Oubre invoked the example of a Vietnamese-American woman who normally works as a crab distributor, buying 5,000 pounds of crabs per day from the crabbers. She has now pivoted to making masks and giving them away to Fr. Oubre and his staff.
“She’s thinking seriously: how can she help her brothers and sisters,” he said. “They’re not medical-grade quality, but they will give us something that we can then exercise greater precaution.”
Oubre mentioned a local manufacturer who normally makes industrial strength insulation, but now is working to retool to produce face protections and medical-grade masks. Besides helping the pandemic response, the retooling will help his employees return to work.
Even with the difficulties of physical distancing, Oubre said, building community is the way for workers and the unemployed to advocate for themselves.
In his view, labor has suffered in recent decades not only because of legislation, but because of “radical individualism.”
“I think because of our radical individual thinking as Americans, it’s hard for us to say ‘I will sacrifice for myself so that my brothers and sisters will have more’ even though that is a fundamental idea of solidarity within trade unionism and our Catholic social teaching,” Oubre told CNA.
Catholic social teaching's promotion of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity all have roles to play, Oubre summarized.
“Solidarity is being concerned for our brothers and sisters. It’s not just pulling up the draw bridge and hunkering down for ourselves,” he said. “Promoting the common good is constantly a concern, because (the coronavirus) threatens the whole common good, not a class of people or a type of people.”
While some people are demanding federal government action, Oubre said, “fundamentally it comes down to how we handle this at the lowest level. Although the government is going to have a very important role to play... it's going to be how we act in Orange, Texas, or some other place that determines how long this thing is actually going to last.”
At the same time, Oubre was worried that restrictions might be lifted too soon.
“The dangers are clear: we could just have a second wave. We'll be right back into it,” he said.
Sinyai said people with some abundance and without fear of hunger, eviction or foreclosure must be prepared to sacrifice, adding “America’s low-income workers deserve both our prayers and our financial support as they rebuild their lives, careers and savings in the aftermath of the epidemic.”
Ed. note: After the publication of this story, an Amazon spokesperson contacted CNA to dispute the report that 100 workers walked out of the company's Staten Island facility March 31. The company said the number was actually 15. The story has been updated to include Amazon's figure.