At the start of each shift, Eric Jarvis takes a handful of anti-bacterial wipes and sanitizes the equipment he uses at the Packaging Corp. of America mill in Valdosta, Ga.
He worries about getting the coronavirus every time he leaves for work, but knows the nation depends on paper workers to produce the cardboard boxes used to ship millions of items to stores and homes each day.
Jarvis, president of USW Local 646, may not be on the front lines of the pandemic in the same way as nurses and first responders. But he and other manufacturing workers also fulfill a vital role on the nation’s production lines, ensuring that Americans still have the food, medicine, toiletries and other items crucial for everyday life.
“If we don’t make boxes, then the grocery stores don’t have groceries,” Jarvis said of the local’s 235 members. “We know our job is an essential job. You can see the pride in the workers doing their jobs out there.”
Truck drivers, bakers, transit operators, grocery store clerks, warehouse packers and manufacturing workers form the backbone of America’s economy.
They show up every day and get the job done, performing so reliably that the nation long took their work for granted. No one questioned, for example, whether stores would have toilet paper and cleaning products.
Then the pandemic struck, and surging demand for consumer goods exposed America’s dependence on the blue-collar workers who supply almost every need.
Life would grind to a halt without them.
Right now, these workers risk COVID-19 by laboring in groups at mills, factories, warehouses and stores while many other Americans do their jobs alone at home. It angers Jarvis to think that service workers put their lives on the line for the poverty-level wages common in their industry.
“I hope people never forget that,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis and his co-workers protect themselves as best they can.
Besides wiping down equipment, they stagger their starting times to reduce contact with one another. They wait in their cars and trucks before a shift instead of congregating at the time clock. Inside the mill, they remain at their work stations unless their presence elsewhere is a necessity.More ...