Essential Labor: Underpaid And In Harm’s Way
April 4, 2020 10:18 AM   Subscribe

“The coronavirus is terrible for all, but more terrible for America’s underclass, now redefined not just as the poor and marginalized, but those who are deemed “essential”—not to heal the sick but mostly to enable the rest of us to successfully shelter in place.” “Essential” Workers Are Dying (Slate) ‘We Will Not Sit Back and Let Transit Workers Be Treated Like Cannon Fodder’ As the death toll mounts, unions representing transit workers in major cities demand protective gear. (The Nation) “As hospitals across New York City are filling up with patients gasping for air, health care executives are slapping gag orders on their workers to control the narrative amid the coronavirus pandemic.” (Politico) We Didn’t Sign Up For This: Amazon workers on the frontline (NYT) The Big Challenge of Being an ‘Essential’ Worker in a Global Pandemic (KQED) “As the pandemic gets worse, delivery workers will get sick – and very likely some of us will die. At what point does it become too much?“ (Guardian)
posted by The Whelk (80 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
 
I work in a warehouse that supplies automotive replacement glass to installers, and associated stuff for doing the installs. We don't interact with the public; we are wholesale only to installers. We don't work in close proximity most of the time, and even for our delivery drivers, there is little need for up close interaction. Many of our delivery routes are night routes that deliver after-hours, anyway.

So, we're apparently an essential business, and we continue to work at this time. Our warehouse is doing a pretty good job with ongoing sanitization during the day. I'm glad to have a job and a paycheck and be occupied during the day. I'm a bit annoyed at how much I have to out in public, but I'm doing what I can to protect myself.

It's a bit strange how much the office parks have empty parking lots and the blue collar business districts are full of cars. I guess maybe this is a bit of a lesson for everyone.
posted by hippybear at 10:28 AM on April 4, 2020 [41 favorites]


Healthcare workers were already stretched to the breaking point before this crisis, with long hours and inadequate pay. One of the first things I thought when the virus hit the US was that, setting aside the their own sickness and possible death from the virus, I couldn't imagine how they were going to hold it together mentally and physically with even longer hours and under even poorer working conditions. The answer, of course, is that they aren't. They're humans -- very strong ones, generally speaking -- but human nonetheless, and there's only so much they can take.

I know this sounds cynical, but this has me looking at all of these videos of people cheering on the healthcare workers and singing songs for them and such the way I think about empty "thank you for your service" gestures toward members of the armed forces. While there is no doubt some sincerity behind it, it's also intended to absolve us of our guilt over never doing enough for these people before, and certainly not doing enough now.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:52 AM on April 4, 2020 [66 favorites]


The feelings I've heard expressed are "thanks for the clapping but if you're actually sincere, never vote Conservative/Republican again."
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:01 AM on April 4, 2020 [126 favorites]


The feelings I've heard expressed are "thanks for the clapping but if you're actually sincere, never vote Conservative/Republican again."

This.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:06 AM on April 4, 2020 [8 favorites]


And even if you live in blue states, keep primarying and pushing out the more conservative Democrats that are just wolves wearing blue sweaters.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2020 [40 favorites]


A lot of retailers and services that you might not expect are continuing to open, including office supply stores, electronics retailers, DMV employees, and pawnbrokers. Mail workers and public transit workers, too. Most online retailing work seems to have continued unabated. Health care workers are complaining en masse about gag orders from their corporate bosses.

I wonder how sustainable that is going to be over the long term. I worry.
posted by sciatrix at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2020 [14 favorites]


Essential workers appear to have so many obligations, but where and what are the protections available? I've been trying to even find a guide for what someone like a grocery store employee or fast food worker should do upon coming home to protect their families and there's a bizarre silence in the media about it, like there's healthcare workers on one side, people staying in place/working from home on the other, and nobody in between with valid concerns about protecting themselves, but who are unable to don PPE or stay in their homes.
posted by Selena777 at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2020 [20 favorites]


Six confirmed cases in my building alone. Which department? Well, we don't know. The company assures us that anyone meeting their criteria for a close encounter with an ill individual will be sent home with pay for two weeks.

As far as I can gather, the criteria is 15 minutes of close proximity. Yike.
posted by Jacen at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2020 [5 favorites]


The problem is that even if you only include essential services there's a lot of ancillary services that come along with those essential services that become essential by their nature of their proximal ancillary and what's required to operate in a modern world.

Office supply stores? They still need paper, pens, whatever at medical offices. Hospitals might have contracts but smaller, independent practices are going to have people run out for stuff when it runs out.
Electronics retailers? Equipment sometimes needs to be replaced on an ad-hoc basis when it breaks, double since we're trying to work remotely as much as possible which makes computer equipment mandatory.
DMV employees? Licenses expire, so do registrations. Essential workers can't get around a lot of cities well without cars meaning they need to be open.
Pawnbrokers? People are losing incomes. Do we want to close down a way for them to procure immediate funds, even if it's often predatory?

Yes, we could put layers of restrictions on who can do what, but what that typically means is that someone falls through the cracks or things are applied inconsistently due to complicated restrictions and a game of telephone. It would be better to have blanket restrictions on who can be out and about rather than saying to Best Buy that they can sell laptops but no phones or wireless equipment or some equally ridiculous arbitrary list.

It's a shitty situation that sadly isn't amendable to solidarity besides making sure we look after those who have kept things going outside when we're bringing things back together. At that point we need to go 100% on making sure we're pushing our representatives or using our powers as citizens to initiate the referendum to make the changes. Our immediate goal at this point is to keep as much of the economy going while not overloading the hospitals. Once we get serological testing going full steam and can work out who has immunity we can go full steam on getting people out of lockdown and hopefully some measure of relieving people or even just get people out there pushing the political machine towards more equity in how the system treats people. Until then, each of us has to do what we can to make sure those on the front line have to deal with us as little as possible.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:39 AM on April 4, 2020 [7 favorites]


I don't mind being an essential worker.

I do mind being told to just be grateful I still have a job with healthcare when we start asking about work from home and hazard pay.

Which is a thing that is happening, so. If I had the clout I wish I had, I'd tell all of us "essential workers" to stay the fuck home till they start paying thirty an hour.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 11:43 AM on April 4, 2020 [73 favorites]


I've been trying to even find a guide for what someone like a grocery store employee or fast food worker should do upon coming home to protect their families and there's a bizarre silence in the media about it

What we have been doing is asking our two retail workers to come home and shower immediately, throwing their clothes in a bin to be washed on the way in, and maintaining a separation of "contaminated" and "safe" spaces.

Here are some of the better guides I'm finding. You will note that all of them are written assuming that they are writing for people thinking about errands or walks for exercise rather than people who are required to keep working.

Re: "ancillary-essential" services, yeah, I get that--but there is also zero reason that for example, office supply places couldn't change to delivery services to hospitals and otherwise leave workers at home, or reduce hours of operation. If we were willing to properly fast-track a UBI aid package and implement widespread mortgage and rent relief, we could easily say "well, okay, remote computer equipment can be downgraded," never mind "we can still let people make high-interest predatory loans in order to keep themselves safe." (I'm particularly pissed about the pawnbrokers because mostly people are just coming in and trying to window-shop right now.) If we were willing to suspend licensing for cars temporarily, we could furlough DMV workers.

The problem is that we are not willing to loosen restrictions imposed in times that are not emergencies in order to keep people safe right now. The problem is that we do not have the political will to treat this situation like a disaster and organize people in such a way as to keep as many people as possible safe, even if it means that corporate heads will lose some profit in order to keep blue-collar workers alive. That is our biggest problem right now.
posted by sciatrix at 11:57 AM on April 4, 2020 [16 favorites]


I've been wondering about the e-commerce piece quite a bit, especially outside of the Amazon-sphere. I have already been trying to taper off Amazon for years and only order from them in rare instances where they are the only source for something (usually an obscure mechanical piece). We're friends with a postal worker in our city and she said that they have been issued protective equipment, but that some postal carriers still don't take the virus seriously.

So, I'm very privileged to be able to work from home during this time. I am wondering though, should I try to avoid ordering things online for as long as I can, or until this crisis passes? Even from presumably non-problematic sources (like ordering used things from private sellers on eBay)?
posted by Slothrop at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


but there is also zero reason that for example, office supply places couldn't change to delivery services to hospitals and otherwise leave workers at home, or reduce hours of operation.

Logistics chains are being stretched to the limit already without a whole heap of individual deliveries being thrown on top. Amazon can't even cope right now and they have one of the most efficient and flexible chains in the world. Stores are important centralized point to relieve stress on those chains and provide closer stock. In general stores have reduced their hours or have stopped people from coming into the stores. That doesn't stop the risk of other workers being carriers and spreading the virus to each other but it reduces contact as much as possible.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


should I try to avoid ordering things online for as long as I can, or until this crisis passes?

Avoid ordering non-essential things. Try and order as much necessary stuff as you can online to limit going out and also so that companies in the chain know they can keep ramping up and factor in future possible online purchases into their decision making. Tip the delivery people well.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2020


Women are not babysitters for the economy (broadagenda.com.au)
The current crisis has brought to the forefront the size and importance of the unpaid labour market to the economy. ... As a frustrated West Australian teacher recently wrote in a local news outlet: “I usually love teaching, but right now I hate the fact that I am a teacher. We are not babysitters for the economy. You keep the schools open, and I find myself in the unenviable position of being exposed to high-risk behaviours by a beautiful bunch of guileless innocents.”
posted by MiraK at 12:17 PM on April 4, 2020 [17 favorites]


Sure, the mail doesn't need any more strain on it, so instead you pick a day that the office supplies store is open and you have them coordinate bulk pick-ups for office supplies as needed by hospitals. I agree with you that the mail services are over-strained and that mail workers are being put at risk! I just also think that there are collective ways that we could deal with this, societally, without putting low-income workers at risk to the extent that we are currently doing. We can shift the way we do things to take care of more people and curb the spread, but we are not choosing to do this. Instead we are choosing to make blue-collar workers responsible for increased risk in order to keep luxuries coming and as much business-as-usual operation as possible, without necessarily increasing pay or safety gear in a commensurate way. That is what I am objecting to.
posted by sciatrix at 12:19 PM on April 4, 2020 [11 favorites]


Pet stores are considered essential businesses here in WI, and I’ve seen other states as well. I mostly agree with that, because I think we as a country have committed to pets being our family.

EXCEPT fish stores are considered pet stores- still not a problem, there is often specialize equipment, water conditioners, medicines, and foods that are hard to find outside of this specialty setting.

The problem is that one of the mainstays of fish stores is new shipments of fish/corals every week. And they’re still doing it, still advertising to customers and telling them to come in, don’t worry, we’re open because we’re an essential business. Even other aquarists are split- many think if the stores are going to be open, they should be able to continue to be able to sell fish. But this is a hobby where people will browse and linger when buying. I’ve personally spent over an hour browsing and deciding at various times, and that’s just how this hobby is.

There are a few too many loopholes in the essential business side of things.

I have also noticed a level of gender bias in what is and isn’t essential. Hair salons, craft stores, tanning booths, all not essential. And I almost can agree with this except when we get to craft stores- this is where people are getting fabric for home made masks. It’s where a lot of typical women’s work supplies are held, say sewing if you want to repair clothing. We’re super not strict in all these other lanes, but businesses that are primarily geared towards women? Fuck ‘em.

Meanwhile the dry cleaner across the street is still open. Sorry but you don’t have to wear dry clean only clothes during this nightmare. You just don’t.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2020 [38 favorites]


So, one of the things the Russian psyops campaign has established is that any successful political organization in this country has to not be on social media. That pool is more piss than chlorine now.

In person organizing is difficult right now. So we're doing lots of zoom conferencing. Which is why zoom bombing has become such a thing. They want to make sure nothing like a general strike emerges from this.

I don't have easy answers except to note that if you go out at 3 AM and post graffiti on the roadways, it will stay there for some time.
posted by ocschwar at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2020 [16 favorites]


Also for the love of god avoid Instacart and Postmates. Putting a ridiculous amount of people among the general population as "personal" shoppers should be a crime. At least when you get something like Peapod or Safeway you know that the minimal amount of people are preparing the most amount of orders vs Instacart where 50 people handle 100-150 orders. It's god damn criminal how reckless that behavior is. Any online service that isn't taking from the back dock away from double digit exposure numbers per order should be suspended.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2020 [6 favorites]


The problem is that most grocery stores are all out of delivery slots.

It’s also still less people in the store. If one instacart shopper is delivering to three families, that’s one person in public vs at best case scenario three people.
posted by corb at 12:40 PM on April 4, 2020 [11 favorites]


That's exactly the problem. 3D printing face masks is better than not having them, one Instacart shopper is better than three families, ordering from Amazon is better than everybody going to the store.

But those are all false dichotomies, and accepting them at face value indicates ignorance of the larger picture.
posted by Rat Spatula at 12:54 PM on April 4, 2020 [10 favorites]


The larger picture is that these are collective action problems, so we're all doing the best we can with the imperfect options we have.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2020 [21 favorites]


The feelings I've heard expressed are "thanks for the clapping but if you're actually sincere, never vote Conservative/Republican again."

I have a cousin who's a doctor in WV who is still 100% on board the Trump train. When he gets drafted to the regional hospital and COVID patients start dying on him, he'll still vote Trump.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:59 PM on April 4, 2020 [7 favorites]


ocschwar: "I don't have easy answers except to note that if you go out at 3 AM and post graffiti on the roadways, it will stay there for some time."

Toronto is on it... "No April Rent", and the less permanently inscribed "Keep Your Rent" campaign.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:02 PM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


I think people underestimate the amount of people who are needed to make things run and the logistical problems involved in sending more people home. My dad is an essential worker; he's a contract trucker on a sewage line project right now. At minimum, for him to be able to do his job, that means they need someone working dispatch and someone working payroll. At his workplace, that's two different people. They're both older and neither of them could be quickly trained to do the other's job.

So, okay, you've got those two people that need to be working. But that could be done from home, right? Well, set aside the fact that nobody at his workplace would know how to do that, my mom is the one who does payroll, and they live way out in the middle of nowhere, so the internet is so shitty as to be unusable from a work from home standpoint. So she goes in every day, thankfully to an office of no more than 3 people. That's not that much, but in the grand scheme of things, there are thousands of little businesses like this behind so many of the supply lines for essential business.

Go further and add the auto supply stores--this business doesn't have contracts with stores, if something breaks they head down to NAPA and buy something off the shelves. Now add in the people delivering to auto supply stores. Add in the people making the supplies. Same thing for all the paper in the office--they don't have an online system for truckers to log their hours, it's all done by paper and pen, which are bought whenever someone runs out to the store to get some. So you need office supply stores, people to deliver to them, people to make office supplies. People to coordinate all of the above, people to pay people for the work they do. Close any one of those things and my dad's truck breaks down, or he doesn't get paid and runs out of gas for his truck, and he can't get supplies to the sewage crew and they can't do their jobs.

There's a lot more essential workers out there than we think.
posted by brook horse at 1:11 PM on April 4, 2020 [43 favorites]


I am finally back today from my retail job; exhausted from the hours, crush of people, spring sales and multiple delivery trucks per day. Most of our stock is purchased a year in advance. There's no stopping it. Many workers have taken time off (sensibly) so those who haven't gasped our last are way overworked. There have already been two covid deaths in my store that were explained as something else. Officially I know and say nothing. We are doing a great job of making our customers feel welcome and "safe".

We aren't supposed to take ibuprofen because it masks fever.... I cannot survive pounding the concrete without it. Who even has a thermometer or even cares to take their temperature when you know you and everyone else working there, our families and customers are already lost? We are already demoralized beyond caring because we've already been sacrificed.

I figure that I will be infected if I'm not already. But this is not healthcare.... it's capitalism. If I could make sense through the brain fog l, I would say more but it's not possible at present. Tomorrow is another workday.

And it didn't have to be like this. There was plenty of advanced warning.
posted by mightshould at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2020 [38 favorites]


It's really only going to be small home office sorts of companies who are running to the office supply store to buy things. Most businesses have office supplies delivered. I worked intensive office supply delivery routes back 15 years ago, and I was in and out of a zillion different places every day with all manner of things, including copy paper.

Staples itself has a vast network of employed or contracted delivery drivers. We have one that comes and brings us our office stuff whenever we place an order.

I can see that special projects would also require a visit to a physical store, and for some other reasons. But for basic supplies, most companies use delivery, and have for increasing numbers over basically decades.
posted by hippybear at 1:20 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


It's really only going to be small home office sorts of companies who are running to the office supply store to buy things.

I think the problem is we underestimate how much of business is supplied by these kinds of companies. 82% of trucking businesses operate with less than 6 trucks, like the one my dad works for, and I'm betting you most of them also run to the store for their office supplies. The problem is, I don't think office supply stores are going to deliver an order of supplies for an office of 2-3 people, especially if they're 30+ minutes away. We need to figure out how to get supplies to these smaller businesses, because if 82% of trucking businesses stopped functioning because they didn't have paper for dispatch or payroll (btw--no one has direct deposit at my dad's workplace, it's all paper checks) we'd have a lot of bigger problems on our hands. I suspect there are other industries where this is the case too.
posted by brook horse at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2020 [8 favorites]


They don't deliver them themselves, mostly. They have contract drivers or contracted companies who take on routes through various places which can be quite far away. I've done this work, both as a driver and as a delivery company manager. It's not trucks, it's box vans or even large cargo vans. Pallets of orders would arrive on a semi rig at our warehouse and would get sorted into routes and sent out with drivers, some of whom ran more urban intense routes and others which might head out on a route that would take them an hour away from the warehouse in a straight shot but which took 4 hours to get to that mid-point. It was a great industry to work in and I enjoyed my time there.
posted by hippybear at 1:41 PM on April 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


I guess, that is to say, online orders aren't being fulfilled by local stores, but from central warehouses, directly to the delivery companies.

anyway, it's essential work, and is happening.
posted by hippybear at 1:42 PM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


There are some unfortunate incentives for workers in my job. The warehouse pays you decently (about $23 per hour minimum or the equivalent for salaried full time employees), but you can also make up to $800 per month in bonuses. That's not trivial in this job. In order to get the highest bonuses you have to work fast. Working fast and keeping your distance from fellow workers in a food warehouse is impossible.

No form of compensation for lost bonuses has been offered. Be glad to have a job.
posted by Dumsnill at 1:43 PM on April 4, 2020 [12 favorites]


That was a bit of shortening words on my part, sorry--I wasn't thinking it would be directly from the stores. I was focusing on the size of the delivery more than anything else. Would the same problem apply for delivery from a central warehouse, do you know? Are they willing to make small deliveries to out of the way places? If so, that would be really great information to get to the kinds of businesses that are typically running to the store for supplies. If it's a viable option I could pass it along to my mom, which would eliminate at least once trip and put fewer office supply workers in danger.
posted by brook horse at 1:46 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


When I was doing such deliveries, I'd sometimes even take a smallish box with unknown contents to an out of the way residential address I'd have to work into my route in the most efficient way possible. Delivery is just delivery.

I don't know if it's free or not, but just going to Staples.com and placing an order will let you know. Insert other company of your preference there.

Most deliveries to smaller offices would be a box of copy paper and another box of stuff. Sort of what you'd buy if you went to the store yourself, I assume. If she hasn't tried placing an order, how would she know whether it would happen for her or not?
posted by hippybear at 1:53 PM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


hippybear, how well would that system adapt to one truck being responsible for almost all deliveries to a route? I’ve been imagining breaking the material economy into explicit cells with minimized handoffs (someplace we can clean the stuff being handed off - soaping down the outsides of reusable crates, etc). Something between postal routes and tiffinwallahs.
posted by clew at 1:56 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


Um... the system I worked in received pallets which had pieces handled by two people between the pallet and the delivery point. I can't speak to what happened upstream in assembling the pallet.

I'm not entirely sure what you're asking, though. One truck for all routes going everywhere in a given spiderweb of a hub and spoke delivery van service? I'm not sure that's possible given the reach of some delivery services.

Where I work now (in the aforementioned auto glass warehouse) we have daily delivery routes that are 400-500 mile round trips. Office supply trips would be less miles because of more density of need for office supplies would mean more stops would equal 8 (or 10) hours takes fewer miles. But you'd be surprised at what delivery routes accomplish as far as territory in parts of the country.
posted by hippybear at 2:05 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


I think this is my favorite rent strike graphic.

Whence the img tag?
posted by kaibutsu at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2020 [12 favorites]


Huh, I didn't realize Staples would do personal online deliveries at all. Thanks, will definitely pass it along.
posted by brook horse at 2:27 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


Ongoing blog from cheesemonger Gordon "Gordonzola" Edgar, at worker-owned Rainbow Coop grocery store in San Francisco: Diary of an Essential Worker
posted by larrybob at 2:39 PM on April 4, 2020 [8 favorites]


mightshould is so right. We had all the info we needed to know this was coming and that we would need to test for it and our nation's leadership did worse than nothing.

I talked to my HR about taking unpaid leave and he reassured me there are no confirmed cases at our store yet. What does that matter? If I suspected that I had it, how would I even get tested? I can't buy a thermometer in this area for love or money. Anyone who wants to come into work sick can just say it's allergies. It took until this week for them to start sanitizing the time clock and lockers. I wouldn't be surprised if half our team or more has it, either asymptomatically or with mild symptoms. Suddenly most of our customers, even regulars, won't look at or talk to me when I greet them. I knew my life wasn't really worth anything to these people, but seeing it shown so boldly is pretty crushing. Having to face that every day is almost as unnerving as the prospect of falling grievously ill.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 2:50 PM on April 4, 2020 [12 favorites]


We had all the info we needed to know this was coming and that we would need to test for it and our nation's leadership did worse than nothing.
a conspiracy theory that is NOT Qanon-friendly
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:59 PM on April 4, 2020


“Chances are those tomatoes, strawberries or almonds you find in your grocery store come from California’s farm country. Monica Campbell of our partner The World takes us into the fields with workers, who are harvesting crops in the middle of the pandemic. She investigates how they’re being protected from the coronavirus and asks what happens if they get too sick to work.” Reveal Podcast
posted by The Whelk at 3:10 PM on April 4, 2020 [8 favorites]


The Whelk, I want to thank you. I would say for doing God's work, but I'm not a believer. This crisis is an opportunity to change all this. If not for us, for the kids. Solidarity.
posted by Acey at 4:30 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]




Partners Healthcare is the largest consortium of hospitals in Boston. Yesterday, the CEO of Partners sent an email to its employees, telling them that the company would not be paying anyone any hazard pay. The link is to Mother Jones, who uncovered the story. They point out that the CEO and the presidents of the 12 member hospitals, who also signed the email, each are paid well over $2 million a year.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:20 PM on April 4, 2020 [12 favorites]


Bear in mind that with all the scheduled surgery and treatments postponed, the usual revenue sources for the Partners hospitals are nil, and that unlike the US government, the hospitals are not allowed to print money. They have to pay with money they actually have. Partners is a nonprofit, which means at least they were allowed to amass a nice rainy day fund, but that's it. Nobody reply knows how the fuck anything in Boston's going to be paid for. And given the way the federal government is treating us, I have to wonder if the final reckoning for all the expenses from this ordeal will be paid with USD or in a new currency at this point.
posted by ocschwar at 6:02 PM on April 4, 2020 [6 favorites]


Aren't pretty much all countries paying for this by basically printing money, meaning that money will become near worthless? Are there good reasons why hyperinflation will not happen?

I'm not some crazy libertarian invested in gold. But what does money mean when it's handed out to everyone? Isn't money a useless number at some point?
posted by Dumsnill at 6:16 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


Aren't pretty much all countries paying for this by basically printing money, meaning that money will become near worthless? Are there good reasons why hyperinflation will not happen?

Hyperinflation only happens when the money printed hand over fist actually chases goods. Between 2008 and today, the Fed's balance sheet has grown from ~5% of GDP to over 20% of GDP. If you quadruple the money supply in real terms how the hell do you not have massive stagflation? Where's the money on that balance sheet gone? Not in the pockets of average people. The top 1% of families captured 52% of the total real income (GDP) growth per family from 2009-2015. Where does money go in the case of a 1% family? It sits there or it gets put to work. The last thing it does is go chasing the same goods as the rest of the economy. A 1%er can only take in so many calories, a 1%er can only have so many cars, a 1%er can only have so many goods. They can go after a much higher caliber of goods (i.e. designer outfits) but these are priced on what the market can bear in order to extract money, can be mass produced, and have very little intrinsic value. To put it bluntly, there's no run on Coach handbags.

So basically, the fed has been running the money tap wide open praying that some of it eventually trickles down to us humble peasants. Since barely any of it does, we don't see it reflected in prices.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:55 PM on April 4, 2020 [12 favorites]


DMV employees? Licenses expire, so do registrations.
They could (and should) extend all the licenses and registrations that expire in the next couple of months. But I ordered a disability placard for my mom this week, because she has recently started using a wheelchair, and she needs to be driven to the hospital for radiation starting next week. And there just isn't any way around that: she needs the placard, and she didn't know she was going to need it until after the coronavirus thing happened. The DMV offices are closed to the public, and I was able to do the whole thing online. The placard is going to be mailed to us. But someone had to be at the DMV, because people haven't stopped becoming disabled, and some of those people have critical needs to get places in cars, which means the DMV needs to be issuing disability placards.

Because my family is going through a major medical crisis (and a new disability, with all sorts of new accessibility needs), I have been using a lot of services that probably don't seem essential. My mom needs to use a hospital bed, and I had to buy extra-long twin sheets from Bed, Bath and Beyond, because my family didn't happen to own extra-long twin sheets, which is what fit on hospital beds. We needed to buy some plumbing stuff from Home Depot to make the bathroom accessible. So I guess that what I'm saying is that there are some things that probably aren't essential for the average person, but non-coronavirus-related shit continues to happen during the coronavirus pandemic, and I think some of the essential stuff is essential for people dealing with that shit, and not necessarily for the average person.

I feel really guilty about all the people who are taking enormous risks to provide essential services to my family. I'm trying to do right by those people, which is hard, because to be honest, I'm pretty taxed and overwhelmed with my own stuff right now.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:56 PM on April 4, 2020 [18 favorites]


The US is in a rather special position here, no?
posted by Dumsnill at 7:01 PM on April 4, 2020


Answer to prior poster
posted by Dumsnill at 7:04 PM on April 4, 2020


I am shocked most stores haven't switched to order ahead for pickup at the door. No one needs to be browsing the grocery store or Home Depot.
posted by sepviva at 7:05 PM on April 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


The US is in a rather special position here, no?

Yes. We get to send pieces of green paper to people and get real goods in return. When two people want to trade goods they typically need to send goods to us to get our pieces of paper before they can exchange them with each other. Then when they get our pieces of paper they send them back to us for safe keeping which we charge them for! This is why Trump complaining about trade deficits is ridiculous. You can't be the world's reserve currency if you're continually taking it off everyone else. The balance of payments has to be negative for the US to retain the economic hegemony it enjoys.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


Yes, but for all other countries this is not a realistic way of managing your economy and currency.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:10 PM on April 4, 2020


The Fed can make money disappear as well as appear, and it does. But this will cause hyperinflation. Having been through it, I can honestly say there are far worse things.
posted by ocschwar at 7:11 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


Aren't pretty much all countries paying for this by basically printing money, meaning that money will become near worthless? Are there good reasons why hyperinflation will not happen

Basically, there's a vast amount of money that has disappeared, or at least stopped moving. Businesses are shutting down, a fair number of them permanently. People aren't getting paid. Commercial rents aren't going to be paid. Anyone that has a bit of sense will be pushing any postponable purchase back 6-12 months, and hang on to the cash in case things get worse. The big risk right now is deflation, recession, and worse. So the only way to keep everything from grinding to a halt is to drop bags of money on the economy from helicopters.
posted by wotsac at 7:12 PM on April 4, 2020 [9 favorites]


Yes, but for all other countries this is not a realistic way of managing your economy and currency.

Correct. No other country in the world can do what the US can do. The USD's market share in all transactions is typically somewhere between 85-90%. The only currency pair in the top 10 that doesn't involve the USD is the EUR/GBP pair. No other currency has ever been so liquid in the history of ever. Because of this, everyone has the vested interest in making sure the USD doesn't go to pot and because of that we can abuse that in ways that have uniquely benefited US interests.

If a country needed to print money hand over fist they would either see their currency collapse or have to raise interest rates during an economic recession. Look at some of the minor anglophone economies. CAD, AUD, NZD. They have all plumbed new lows against the greenback. This will be a boon to their export industries but consumer goods are about to dramatically increase in price.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:18 PM on April 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


In the US those bags might be worth something, but how is dropping printed paper actually solving anything in countries that are not in the ridiculously privileged position of the US?
posted by Dumsnill at 7:20 PM on April 4, 2020


No one needs to be browsing the grocery store or Home Depot.

People without internet, weakly literate people, people who aren’t fluent in the right language. I agree that such a system could involve a lot less transmission risk for workers and customers, but i don’t think it could be the only one.
posted by clew at 7:37 PM on April 4, 2020 [7 favorites]


Aren't pretty much all countries paying for this by basically printing money, meaning that money will become near worthless? Are there good reasons why hyperinflation will not happen?

As much as we like to use that metaphor, Congress cannot actually increase the money supply on their own. When the Treasury spends more money than they collect in taxes, they get it by auctioning Treasury bonds in the open market. So they are borrowing money from investors who trade the cash they have for the bonds. No new money has been created. It has just been transferred from one person's pocket to another person's pocket. This can create inflation if the new person is more likely to spend their cash than the original person. What really causes inflation is not some much when prices rise but when wages rise too fast and that doesn't seem to be a problem right now or the near future.

When the Federal Reserve decides to buy Treasury bonds on the open market, that does create new money. But they can likewise destroy money by selling Treasury bonds.
posted by JackFlash at 7:42 PM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


You are answering from a very US specific point, you need to learn why that is true.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:08 PM on April 4, 2020


"Office supply stores? ... Electronics retailers? ... DMV employees?"

In my state, stores like this are allowed to be open by appointment only. Because YES, essential businesses need office supplies and electronics, but those stores DON'T need to be full of people browsing at random. They're theoretically supposed to only be selling to people with an essential business need, although that's being flouted to a degree. But they're NOT flouting the rule that they can only have one person in the store, by appointment, and they've got to clean after every customer, which is okay with me. If random parents are stocking up on school supplies for distance learning, but they're doing it by appointment as the only person in the store, that's probably okay even if not technically allowed. But there ARE solutions beyond "shut it down so nobody can get office supplies" or "whelp, guess we gotta leave it open."

Our DMV has extended all licenses and registrations and so on. Certain things have been extended for an entire year; other things will have a three-month grace period after the DMV reopens to the public. Much more stuff is able to be accomplished online via the DMV website. I'm still glad I renewed my license before they shut down, because I imagine it will be pretty crowded when it finally reopens, but it's nice that anybody who hasn't basically doesn't have to worry about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:46 PM on April 4, 2020 [10 favorites]


As the owner of a decidedly non-essential business, which has been closed since the 16th, my sole source of income is now online sales. So "don't buy frivolous things and overload the postal system," while good advice, is rough on me because I already don't know how I'm going to pay rent for the shop next month, and if I don't at least sell some jewelry on Etsy I don't know how I'll pay rent for my apartment.
posted by nonasuch at 9:19 PM on April 4, 2020 [10 favorites]


Bear in mind that with all the scheduled surgery and treatments postponed, the usual revenue sources for the Partners hospitals are nil, and that unlike the US government, the hospitals are not allowed to print money.

Sure, but you could line Klibanski and her accomplices up against the wall and ... requisition their salaries.
Klibanski doesn’t have to worry about hazard pay herself. When she became head of the company last year, it was reported that her base annual salary would be $2 million. But it’s likely she pockets more than that. Her predecessor received a base salary of $2.3 million in 2017 plus additional compensation of $3.8 million. According to the Boston Business Journal, that year he earned “nearly three times as much as every other health system executive in the state.”

The letter to the Partners HealthCare employees was signed by the heads of 12 hospitals that are part of the company, including Dr. Peter Slavin, president of of Massachusetts General, and Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They each earned $2.6 million in total compensation in 2017.
I mean, on imgur there's a bevy of small business owners and even landlords being compassionate right now. And this CEO is making ($6.1 M / 2080 hour = $2932/hour) .
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:37 PM on April 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


> “Chances are those tomatoes, strawberries or almonds you find in your grocery store come from California’s farm country. Monica Campbell of our partner The World takes us into the fields with workers, who are harvesting crops in the middle of the pandemic. She investigates how they’re being protected from the coronavirus and asks what happens if they get too sick to work.”

Farmworkers, Mostly Undocumented, Become 'Essential' During Pandemic - "Immigrant field workers have been told to keep working despite stay-at-home directives, and given letters attesting to their 'critical' role in feeding the country."

this is an insightful thread: "two important points: globalized commodity prices constrain the 'raise wages until the (legal) labor mkt clears' strategy. migrants who consider themselves temporary may value wages beyond local subsistence in home country purchasing power terms."
posted by kliuless at 12:57 AM on April 5, 2020 [3 favorites]



I have also noticed a level of gender bias in what is and isn’t essential. Hair salons, craft stores, tanning booths, all not essential.


you are fucking kidding me

is it the female workforce or the female clientele for these entirely nonessential businesses that you feel are being deprived of a fair shot at catching the coronavirus? or both?

btw, re: craft stores, Hobby Lobby made a valiant effort at defying closure orders and keeping stores open to endanger as many people as possible. so send a thank-you their way I guess.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:03 AM on April 5, 2020 [11 favorites]


Overwhelmed Hospitals Face a New Crisis: Staffing Firms Are Cutting Their Doctors’ Hours and Pay (Isaac Arnsdorf, Pro Publica)
"Multiple private-equity-backed staffing companies have cut hours for thousands of emergency room doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. That means there are fewer medical workers at a time in hospitals and they are receiving less pay."

Most ER doctors aren’t direct employees of the hospitals where they work. Historically, the doctors belonged to practice groups that contracted with the hospitals. In recent years, private-equity investors started buying up and consolidating those practice groups into massive staffing companies. [...]

The staffing companies said they’re responding to dropping revenue as non-coronavirus patients avoid the ER and hospitals cancel elective procedures. The companies also emphasize that they’re not cutting physicians’ hourly rates.

But by assigning fewer hours to doctors and other providers such as physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners, the companies are effectively paying them less. It also means that some hospitals have fewer clinicians working in the ER at a time.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:29 PM on April 5, 2020 [7 favorites]


Overwhelmed Hospitals Face a New Crisis: Staffing Firms Are Cutting Their Doctors’ Hours and Pay
I don't believe in revolutions, but man, it's hard not to think of the guillotine when you see something like that.
posted by mumimor at 1:43 PM on April 5, 2020 [6 favorites]


I pressed post too fast. What I also wanted to say was: my Phd was mainly about Weimar Germany, and I always felt I was handling it OK, but I never could imagine the immense anger of 1919 entirely. I knew people were poor, invalid, out of work, out of future, but I felt I'd experienced something somewhat similar during the -80's and at the same time I could feel it wasn't even close. Now I know better.
posted by mumimor at 1:49 PM on April 5, 2020 [8 favorites]


Inspired by striking McDonald’s workers, a worker at a Domino’s Pizza walked out to protest conditions at his store after a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19: “We have no masks and no gloves and will no longer put our lives at risk for pizza” Every Food And delivery Strike Happening Right Now
posted by The Whelk at 7:05 AM on April 6, 2020 [5 favorites]


New: Amazon workers in Staten Island are walking off the job again today. Advocates say that warehouse employees have been informed of at least 25 positive coronavirus cases at the facility.
posted by The Whelk at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2020 [4 favorites]


Grocery workers are beginning to die of coronavirus (Washington Post)

"Industry experts say the rise of worker infections and deaths will likely have a ripple effect on grocers’ ability to retain and add new workers at a time when they’re looking to rapidly hire thousands of temporary employees."

Because that is the primary issue here, the acquisition of more grist for the fucking mill.
posted by Selena777 at 1:36 PM on April 6, 2020 [6 favorites]




A Nurse Bought Protective Supplies for Her Colleagues Using GoFundMe. The Hospital Suspended Her.(Marshall Allen, ProPublica)
Olga Matievskaya and her fellow intensive care nurses at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey were so desperate for gowns and masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus that they turned to the online fundraising site GoFundMe to raise money.

The donations flowed in — more than $12,000 — and Matievskaya used some of them to buy about 500 masks, 4,000 shoe covers and 150 jumpsuits. She and her colleagues at the hospital celebrated protecting themselves and their patients from the spread of the virus.

But rather than thanking the staff, hospital administrators on Saturday suspended Matievskaya for distributing “unauthorized” protective gear.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:13 PM on April 7, 2020 [3 favorites]


ER Staffing Company Reverses Benefits Cuts for Doctors and Nurses Fighting Coronavirus (Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica)
A major medical staffing company said it wouldn’t go through with cuts to doctors’ pay and benefits after ProPublica first reported the plans.

Alteon Health, which employs more than 1,700 doctors and other medical workers nationwide, said Sunday it won’t cut medical directors’ stipends by 20%, as planned, and will continue offering paid time off, which it had said would stop. While Alteon will defer matching 401(k) contributions, it won’t eliminate those contributions, as previously announced.

Executives are still taking a 25% pay cut, and the company, backed by equity investors New Mountain Capital and Frazier Healthcare Partners, said it will reduce administrative expenses by 20%.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:16 PM on April 7, 2020




I posted this in the check-in thread, but on reflection it probably belongs here:

Emily Maitlis (BBC Newsnight): "This is a health issue with huge ramifications for social welfare - and it's a welfare issue with huge ramifications for public health."
posted by Acey at 5:44 PM on April 8, 2020 [1 favorite]


‘I Wish They Would Fire Me’: Spooked Retail Workers Are Ready to Bail Daily Beast, Livia Gershon, Apr. 10, 2020. • “I’m fearful for my life every time I walk inside the building,” one Amazon worker said. • “The more and more they say they’re doing, the more and more they’re lying.”:
[Individuals and group leaders] have been working with United for Respect, a workers’ organization that is pushing for better leave policy, wages, and safety measures during the current crisis. Other retail workers say they feel they have nowhere to go with their concerns. Many asked to remain anonymous or use only their first names in this story for fear of repercussions at work.

A member of the management team at a Lowe’s store in the upper Midwest said he was frustrated to see CEO Marvin Ellison effectively encouraging shoppers to buy supplies for recreational DIY projects during this crisis. He said the store has continued receiving large shipments of patio furniture and grills, even after Lowe’s workers elsewhere have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and at least one has died from the illness.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:35 AM on April 10, 2020


Business Insider, Taylor Borden, Apr 8, 2020: The coronavirus outbreak has triggered unprecedented mass layoffs and furloughs. Here are the major companies that have announced they are downsizing their workforces.
Warning: article has a large number of images.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:37 AM on April 10, 2020


9 Amazon Workers Describe the Daily Risks They Face in the Pandemic Wired.com, Louise Matsakis, 10 April 2020:
[...] Each of them say they are terrified for their health and that of their families, and many believe Amazon isn’t doing enough to ensure their safety. While the company has often framed its frontline workers as heroes, the people WIRED spoke with say they didn’t sign up for this level of risk.

Covid-19 has now spread to at least 50 Amazon facilities in the US, out of a total of more than 500, according to The New York Times. The outbreaks have led to employee protests in Detroit, New York City, and Chicago, where workers said Amazon was slow to notify them about infections and failed to conduct adequate cleaning. At Amazon-owned Whole Foods, staff staged a nationwide demonstration citing similar safety concerns and calling for free coronavirus testing for all employees. And more than 5,000 Amazon workers have signed a petition asking for additional benefits given the health crisis, including hazard pay and for the company to shut down any facility where a worker tests positive so it can be properly cleaned.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:16 PM on April 12, 2020


Rabia Ali: "I was married to a soldier at the peak of the Iraq War. I am married to a doctor during this pandemic. The insidious nature of their valorization has been the same. I have seen, all too closely, the hero-worship that thinly veils the willingness to sacrifice their lives."

Jerusha Chua: "The hero worship of healthcare workers makes it easier for the public to accept their deaths as a necessary sacrifice."
posted by kliuless at 8:42 PM on April 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


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