The Holiday Season: The Contradiction of an Essential Worker

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David Haines (Creative Commons)

Once the fall season came along, the world pretty much knew the holidays here in the Bay Area were not going to be enjoyed the way they are used to. Leading up to Thanksgiving, CDC recommended families to celebrate virtually or the people you live with. Make sure guests bring their own food, drinks, cups and utensils. And of course bring your own mask and keep it in a safe place when eating. Those who took this seriously knew that this year’s Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be the wild gathering of family and loved ones that they know and love. Essential retail workers had reason to be the most cautious, because the holiday season is upon us, and the nonstop shopping is about to begin, despite the pandemic.

Over the past few years, stores have begun their Black Friday observance increasingly early — At first, it would begin at typical business hours on Friday, then it became midnight, and then as early as Thursday afternoon, stores open for their can’t-miss deals. It recently became a tradition that as soon the Thanksgiving feast is over the family gets ready to head to the mall, Best Buy or Target to let that Christmas shopping begin. But let us not forget that this year has been something completely different, with COVID-19 around the best thing we could do is stay home from the Black Friday sales. Luckily, retail workers were allowed to enjoy all of Thanksgiving in a safe manner, but the next-day sales were not put on hold. After being encouraged to be safe and healthy at home, the retail worker must get as much sleep as possible to be ready for the hectic Black Friday that some cannot afford to call off.

Since the pandemic began, many retail workers have not had a chance to take a breather. Then there are those brand new retail workers that have been recently let go or at their previous job, for whom this is their first retail job. Before Black Friday, thoughts like “What are the rules that my employers are going to impose upon their employees?” started to come about.

Black Friday of 2020 did not feel how it should have: the hundreds of customers clogging up the aisle, the endless line to come in and out — None of this felt safe for anyone. Many stores have started their holiday deals days in advance and extended them days after. Without even counting the Cyber Monday and online deals there should be no reason why Black Friday was as hectic as it was.

COVID-19 has not been contained, and here in the Bay Area, once it feels that things are getting back to normal, cases go up, and then the Bay Area is back to where it was in the beginning of the pandemic. The fact of the matter is that essential workers are tired, but do not want to give up. It is not about quitting and finding an easy way to make money, it is more about finding a way to allow them to both keep their jobs and feel safe. Having hundreds of people stuffed in one store to get the best deal is not a safe way. This holiday season must feel like one of the best ever, because with all that is happening in the world, we must have our loved ones closer than ever.

Now, most of the Bay Area has gone back to lockdown, meaning essential workers are back to square one. The lockdown has returned at the worst time, the beginning of December, when people who have not prepared themselves for the holidays will do the most last-minute shopping at the worst times. There could be capacity restriction and shorter store hours, but it is the holiday season, and shoppers will not stop themselves from buying the gifts they need to purchase. This is what makes the holiday season a contradiction — We want to remain healthy and safe but the job requires us to be around so many people. Essential workers cannot quit at this point, and with this new lockdown, workers must have thick skin in order to pull through, and must always wear masks. It is only the beginning of the holiday season, but not the end of what this year will challenge essential workers with.