Every Thanksgiving, I write a reminder for the people at home or with their families to take a moment to think about people who have to work on the holiday. This year, the pandemic has altered that landscape a little bit, in ways good and bad. 

A number of retail chains that in recent years just couldn’t wait until Black Friday, and had opened on Thanksgiving, will be closed on Thursday this year. They didn’t necessarily do it out of the goodness of their hearts—many of those companies are struggling to find workers and burning out the ones they have probably won’t help them with staffing. Target even made clear that it was staying closed on Thanksgiving because customers liked it that way, not because it was the right thing to do for workers. Still, amid labor shortages, the holiday shopping season will be intense enough for the people working in those stores. 

A rousing boo to any store that is closed on Thanksgiving but doesn’t have holiday pay. And too many workers will still be called into jobs that really don’t need to be done every single day.

Some jobs, though, need to be worked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without regard to holidays. Nurses. Doctors. Paramedics and EMTs. Firefighters. This year, many of those workers have spent more than a year and a half working through a pandemic that has made their jobs more difficult, more dangerous, more relentless. More than 3,600 health care workers died of COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic, and while vaccines have done a lot to protect them from serious illness and death over the past eight months or so, they have still been forced to preside over enormous amounts of suffering and death, most of it preventable.

So on this day of giving thanks, remember to thank the people who’ve gotten us this far, who’ve put their health and their lives on the line to care for our sick or make sure there are groceries on the shelves. But remember how much of that risk and brutal work shouldn’t have been necessary—or should have been done in the context of employers and a society that valued the workers and the work more highly.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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