You are a hero

BY RACHEL HOROWITZ, Columnist
Posted 8/7/20

By the time you read this, my significant other will have returned to his job at a well-known Chapel Hill restaurant. Three years ago, I walked through those doors, not realizing that by returning to …

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You are a hero

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Posted

By the time you read this, my significant other will have returned to his job at a well-known Chapel Hill restaurant. Three years ago, I walked through those doors, not realizing that by returning to my job there, our friendship would turn to romance and we would end up moving next door to Chatham County.

But the next time he walks into work, we will both feel nothing but apprehension.

You see, he will be up close and personal with a lot of guests every night, wearing a face mask to protect others but not himself from COVID-19. He and his coworkers will not earn hazard pay — in fact, most of the other employees have been on extended furlough. A lot of their protocol will fall into brand new territory, and even though other restaurants have tested strategies, we don’t know how bad things may become.

At the time I write this, Congress has not have passed a plan to counter the expired CARES Act unemployment benefits. If they remain at a standstill, 20 million out-of-work Americans won’t earn a living wage while they search for very limited jobs that pay what’s needed to feed themselves and their families.

If we were in a parallel universe, the irony would almost be funny. Every day when I drive home, I pass a sign proclaiming: “Heroes Work Here.” “Heroes,” we say, as many of us continue to work from home or in socially distant offices, avoiding unnecessary public interaction.

“Heroes,” as we send teachers into classrooms and develop response plans for student and teacher deaths — not if they will happen, but when. “Heroes,” as we argue with grocery store employees who have been working since March without sick pay. “Heroes,” as we wonder why our healthcare friends had to isolate instead of attending the Fourth of July barbecue.

A few weeks ago, The City Tap in Pittsboro posted a copy of a receipt where the customer wrote “Go F--- Yourself” in the tip line. The reason was because they asked that customer to wear a mask in their place of business. And when someone in the service industry falls ill, all we’ve heard are “thoughts and prayers.” Thoughts and prayers and “my freedom” versus “your life.” This angers me, and it should anger you too.

According to a Yale study published in mid-July, people experienced slight gains in employment when they received larger increases in benefit generosity. The same study found that the most important factor for gainful employment is job availability. Yet many large employers tell contract and temporary workers that they are dispensable and refuse to give them company benefits or health insurance.

I believe that it’s not too late to give more than lip service to the service industry. It starts with people like you and me giving at least a 20 percent tip if we dine at a restaurant, or get our hair cut, or order delivery, or even pick up food curbside. It starts with wearing a mask in every establishment and if we can’t, staying home (see resources below for neighbors who are willing to help).

It continues by fighting for a living wage for ALL employees, one that allows them to afford a home in the county where they work. It continues by fighting for hazard pay and extended sick leave, not just an apple for your teacher or a smoothie for your physician. It continues by calling out people who continuously put themselves before others and spread misinformation behind their screens.

Don’t treat our heroes like villains. The fate of the world depends on it.

Chatham resources:

Chatham Neighbor2Neighbor

• English: https://bit.ly/ChathamNeighbor2Neighbor

• Spanish:https://bit.ly/ChathamVecinoAVecino

Caremongering Pittsboro (Facebook group)

NextDoor Help Map: https://nextdoor.com/help_map/

Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

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