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Workers Make Difference Expressing Health Concerns During Pandemic

August 9, 2020

Around our home, I have often mentioned the bus drivers around the state who drive the many miles to pick up kids and deposit them to school, and then home again later in the day.  Each child that gets on and off the bus passes the driver. During this pandemic, it does not take a drawing to demonstrate potential problems.

When we talk about employees who are potentially impacted by the opening of schools we often hear concerns of the teachers, and rightly so, but we need to be mindful of all the people who are placing their health in danger by the opening of schools in districts where the medical data shows virtual learning would be the more appropriate way to proceed.

I have been most proud of the working men and women who have stepped up and voiced their medical concerns about the way businesses or public schools planned to re-open.  At a time when the infection rates from COVID-19 and the death rates are increasing workers across the spectrum have every right to be concerned.  No one should need to consider having a will updated before heading off to a job.  No worker should wonder if they are bringing home a deadly virus to medically compromised family members or aging parents.

But those concerns are what some employers have placed upon their workers. Or tired to do, as with EPIC and their nearly 10,000 employees.

The Madison-area tech company had thought they could order workers to head back to the office spaces on their campus this week.  Needless to say, many of those employees felt scared about returning to the limited workspace with thousands of their co-workers.  So they stood up, spoke out, and took their message to the press.

The reason such public measures were necessary is what locals have known for a very long time.  Epic is notorious for stemming any desire of the employees to unionize and promote their common grievances.  So when it came to a matter of life and death workers proved more than able to be loud spokespeople for their well-being.

With public pressure and bad PR EPIC bent to the demands of the pandemic.  That it took a public rebuke to allow for a positive outcome speaks volumes about the struggle still being fought for workers’ rights.

In an email to employees this weekend Epic stated they will not require workers to return to work in-person.  Instead, Epic stated that if employees “do not feel that their personal circumstances or concerns allow them to return to campus, they are no longer required to do so.”

One might hope that in these troubling times there would be a higher regard for each other, along with a propensity to make health safety the default action.  But when it comes to the well-being of workers there continues to be callousness from too many employers.  Therefore, workers have rightly pushed back and proved their leverage concerning what offices will be filled or desks staffed.

I am confident, in time, we will find a working vaccine and this chapter will close on the virus.  But reaching that point must not be over the hospital beds and coffins of workers who were not treated fairly.

And so it goes.

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