Someone’s Still Gonna Have To Make You A Latte Even If They Have Coronavirus
Writer Lauren Hough posted a compelling Twitter thread Thursday that's worth reading, in light of the coronavirus pandemic. It reminded us that the people who prepare our food, clean our homes, and otherwise keep the world spinning aren't robots. They get sick and because they aren't tech executives, they can't afford to take time off to recover from the sniffles or that pesky walking pneumonia.
Most of the Democratic candidates have some plan for paid family leave. Washington Senator Patty Murray introduced the Healthy Families Act last year. The legislation would provide up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year for workers at businesses with 15 or more employees. If you work somewhere with fewer than 15 employees, your sick time is unpaid, which means you won't take any because you enjoy eating and living indoors. You can also use this time to care for a sick relative, so parents specifically will likely use up their days playing nursemaid to sick kids and return to work with turbo-charged versions of the same illness.
We don't want to seem negative. It's good that politicians are addressing this issue in some way. However, the dirty little secret is that human mortals are sick far more than just seven days a year. Adults suffer from the common cold on average of two to three times a year. Healthy people get over a cold in about a week, which is also roughly how long you're contagious and passing the fun on to others. Realistic paid sick time would amount to about a month each year, and that's not accounting for anything serious.
The dilemma is that Americans, especially workers in the service industry, are conditioned to "power through" seemingly "mundane" illnesses. Show up unless you're coughing blood. When a friend worked in retail and tried to call out sick with food poisoning, her boss asked her, “North Pole or South Pole?" How is that a line someone draws?
Far too many businesses have no real structure in place to accommodate people calling out sick. The work is not easily absorbed because god forbid companies don't have the leanest staff possible so they can maximize shareholder profits. Generous laws that permit workers to keep their jobs if they stay home while fever-ridden don't acknowledge that workers can barely survive working their existing shifts.
It's weird to see people shopping for surgical masks to wear that'll presumably keep them from catching the coronavirus, yet they'll still stop at Chipotle for lunch. This isn't to judge anyone who enjoys a fast-casual burrito, but we are exposed to more infectious germs than we care to admit.
Americans aren't that crazy about a world where we'd have to wait in line longer for a vanilla latte because workers actually stayed home when they were sick. We also wouldn't want to pay more for that latte because coffee shops had enough staff to reasonably absorb absences. Hough describes working as a barista while deathly ill because she'd lose her job if she stayed home. That attitude from management is cruel to workers but also offensive to customers, whose latte art shouldn't contain traces of snot.
Companies should care enough about their staff that they don't force them to work when they're sick. They should also pay them enough to afford to experience the effects of human frailty. Everyone's healthier this way, both physically and morally.
But until the laws change, leave extra generous tips during cold season.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).