I always try to talk with any workers I encounter. That includes those whose job it is to deal with the public (like salespeople) and others, like those who work on our streets. They almost all appreciate it. Here’s a couple of encounters I’ve had recently. (And, by the way, I think we all should be trying to make these connections. Talk with your fellow workers, whether you work with them or you’re just a part of the “general public”!)
Just returned from Lucky’s supermarket. While I was there, a customer greeted a manager he knew. The manager gave the customer a big hug. “Watch that,” I said. “Social distancing. Social distancing.”
“I’m not worried about any virus,” said the manager. “I’ve got my faith in god. I’ve got god.”
“Yeah, well, is god protecting all those people in New York?” I asked her.
“I’ve got my faith in god. I’ve got my faith in god,” was all she could reply, like a mantra. She was using that to completely wall off any discussion.
“Sir, you can’t discuss religion with her,” intervened another clerk (who I happen to know is quite conservative). “You’re not supposed to discuss religion.”
“I don’t care about her religion,” I said. “I just don’t want her spreading the virus in our community.” But the conservative wouldn’t listen either.
In reality, I would be not cry if all these religious fanatics caught the virus and…. But the problem is that they’re going to spread it to the rest of us and, meanwhile, they’ll be taking up hospital beds and using ventilators that the more deserving among us should get.
I sent Lucky’s the following complaint: “Dear Lucky’s: I am a regular shopper at your store on East 18 street and 2nd Ave. in Oakland. While I was there this morning, I saw a manager give a customer she knew a big hug in greeting. I am happy to see a good relationship between store representatives and customers, but not in this time. I also observed her talking with people at much less than six feet distance. I reminded the manager of “social distancing” and she justified her hug by saying she had her faith in god. What she wants to do on her own time is her business, as is her religion. But I believe that in the work place she should have to observe the safety recommendations that the rest of us are. I hope you inform all employees, especially managers, that they must observe social distancing.”
Lucky’s called me back. They spoke with the person involved. They said she was not happy being told to observe social distancing. Tough shit for her.
A worker for PG&E, the gas and electric utility in my area, just called me. She called to tell me I have to read my own meter and send in a picture of it because the meter readers aren’t going out now. (I don’t have one of those stupid “smart” meters.) I asked her how she and her co-workers were doing, and we had a nice, generic conversation. I knew that the workers there are in the union, so I asked how the union was doing, was it protecting them, and she gave me a general positive response. I mentioned that I’m a retired construction worker and a former member of the carpenters union. “Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I’m 100% pro union, but I have to say, the building trades unions are falling down on the job. I’m seeing all sorts of posts on Facebook from construction workers who are afraid to go to work but don’t want to walk off the job on their own. And I can tell you, on a lot of jobs it’s basically impossible to work with social distancing. And where is the union? It’s missing in action.
“I talk with a lot of grocery workers where I shop. They haven’t seen hide nor hair of their union reps. I figure the reps are saying ‘I don’t want to expose myself to those crowds.’ Well, if their members are, they should be too. They should be willing to take the same risks as the members they represent.
“Like I said, I’m 100% pro union, but the unions really need to step up.”
The PG&E rep then changed her tune. She agreed with me. She commented on paying and paying union dues and what do they get out of it? We ended up agreeing that hopefully when this is over the members will step up and change their unions.
And we also agreed that one thing this crisis shows: We’re all in the same boat. At least as workers we are.
(And by the way, it’s been proven true – “chance encounters” such casual conversations with people we just happen to cross paths with are the best thing for our health.)