A Tale of Five Workers During COVID-19: Unease About the Future | New Hampshire Public Radio

A Tale of Five Workers During COVID-19: Unease About the Future

Jul 6, 2020

 

 

This pandemic has transformed employment for many Americans. Many lost their jobs. Others began working from home almost exclusively, while essential workers, facing danger on the job, adopted an array of new safety procedures. During our discussion on the future of work, we heard from workers representing diverse sectors about their current predicaments.   

 

Their comments, edited lightly, are below. For the full conversation, visit here

 

TECHNOLOGY

Taylor: “We’ve seen them testing a lot of combinations of positions.”

My job is very technology heavy. I’ve noticed that as we’ve had to continue working under COVID- 19 conditions, we’ve seen them testing a lot of combinations of positions. They’re  basically trying to see how few people can essentially get the job done. 

This worries me a little bit. Most of it is pitched as being done on contintingency --  in the event of someone being out for an extended period of time. But I do wonder if this is a test run for corporate thinking this could technically be done by fewer people -- that what’s being done now to get by might be detrimental to workers, and to having a healthy staff going forward. 

 

MANUFACTURING

Otto: “Basically, it’s a waiting game.” 

I'm an engineer at a manufacturing plant and we have remained open through the pandemic. Most of our office staff moved to work from home, with one person from each department in the office to make sure we can interact with the manufacturing floor.

 

It's been an interesting couple of months; our machines are all six feet apart so we've been fortunate on that front. For us, the more problematic element is that incoming sales have been down, as much of what we produce goes to auto and aircraft manufacturers, and they have not been open/producing at scale.

 

We used the PPP loan first, but now we have moved to the NH Work Share (which it’s great that New Hampshire has). Basically, it’s a waiting game for us to see when other parts of the economy can safely come back.

 

DOMESTIC WORK

Anonymous: “They never stopped having people over, and they exposed us all to the virus all the time.” 

I work for a wealthy family and during the pandemic they decided what would be best for themselves would be  to take away their staff’s health insurance and disability insurance.   We were not allowed to take time off. We had to work without masks around them. They never stopped having parties. They never stopped having people over, and they exposed us all to the virus all the time.  Two of us on the staff had to take another job to pay for our insurance. We are again exposed to COVID. We also have had no raises for eight years, but we are not really skilled workers and they know they can take advantage. 

 

THE TRADES

Tim: “I think it bears discussing that in addition to having all this massive disruption, we have some sectors of our economy, some jobs, that are not filled and will never be.”

I work in the skilled-service sector -- electricians, painters, plumbers, carpenters, people like that,  and I’m self-employed. It’s a small sector but it’s important in our economy and it’s populated by middle aged men and women, and there aren’t enough young people going into that line of work to replace us as we age out.  

Personally, I’m painting somebody’s staircase in a  mansion in Portsmouth and I’m 68 years old and I”m lucky to have a 22-year-old son that works with me but if I could find another 22-year- old that was motivated and wanted to learn the trade, I would jump on that opportunity. But I can’t, so I think it bears discussing that in addition to having all this massive disruption, we have some sectors of our economy, some jobs, that are not filled and will never be. Nobody will ever do what I do, and most of those skilled service jobs that I described will never be taken over by a computer or artificial intelligence, yet people aren’t beating our doors down to come and work with us. 

 

ARTISTS
 

Blair: “We miss our events, seeing all our customers and our incomes are drastically affected. The arts are taking a huge hit and we are an important part of a community’s health.”

I am a craftsperson, a jeweler that does juried craft shows for the lion’s share of my income. All of my shows have been cancelled this year, which covers six states, the largest of them being the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair at Mt. Sunapee in August. 

We craftspeople are in the last tier of opening, which doesn’t look like it will happen this year, especially with so many people that won’t wear masks and the lack of mass COVID testing to really cut the virus down.

Many of us are shifting to on-line sales; the League of NH Craftsmen is now promoting the Craftsmen’s Fair virtually (www.nhcrafts.org), but it just doesn’t compare to in-person interactions and experiences with our customers. 

We miss our events, seeing all our customers and our incomes are drastically affected. The arts are taking a huge hit and we are an important part of a community’s health.