From the March-April 2021 issue of News & Letters
San Jose, Calif.—On Feb. 13 about 20 people, newly organized as Northern California Unemployed Committee, came downtown to draw attention to the disparities within capitalism exacerbated by COVID-19. They demanded the federal government stop taxing unemployment benefits and that it restore the $600 per week unemployment supplement.
The first speaker, an economist, explained that the “recovery” from the pandemic will only increase existing economic disparities. A young restaurant worker related his experience and that of his colleagues. He said when they lost jobs, they would initially be denied their unemployment claims and have to fight to have them validated. Then when they lost the $600 supplemental unemployment payments, they could no longer afford to live in the Bay Area. One young woman then spoke to how the pandemic devastated some workers:
“The economic recession caused by COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women. It has greatly impacted service sectors, such as restaurants, hospitality, and retail, which predominantly employ women….Employment among low-wage service workers has taken an overwhelmingly large hit in this crisis, and those jobs are disproportionately held by women and people of color….The long-lasting effects of this will intensify pre-existing wealth and gender inequality.
WORKING WOMEN IN A TRIPLE BIND
“This pandemic has also put many working women in the difficult position of choosing between their financial security and their own safety, as well as the safety of their loved ones. Stay-at-home and social-distancing measures have closed schools and childcare facilities, leaving families with children responsible for childcare with limited options….Additionally, women are often primary caretakers of at-risk elders, and are forced to choose between keeping their loved ones safe and maintaining employment while risking COVID-19 exposure.
“A third of the women workforce are considered essential workers: grocery clerks, home health aides and social workers. They have been and continue to be put at risk of getting COVID-19 by their employers in exchange for minimal hazard pay, no benefits, and low wages.
“My close friend L. has been employed by Whole Foods, and contracted COVID-19 due to the company’s misconduct. Her store has treated its workers with no regard to their safety. They do not have hazard pay, they allow maskless customers into the store, they increased the maximum store capacity to more than 150 people during the holidays, and they treat their workers as expendable. When one of her co-workers passed away after contracting COVID-19, Whole Foods let their employees know by taping an obituary to the time-clock, and made no changes to their safety practices or hazard pay policies.
“Forcing women, and predominantly women of color, to choose between the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones and employment at a company that does not value them as anything but workers, is unjust. In our current system women, who put their families and their own safety over the profits of a company that does not care about them, do not qualify for unemployment benefits. The systems in place MUST serve the people, especially those who have faced the hardest hardships. Anything less is morally reprehensible.”