Prior to the COVID crisis, more than 35,000 workers were employed in the Charlottesville region1 in seven broad industries that have been serving on the frontlines of support, sustenance, and care since the pandemic. They make up 29 percent of all workers in our area and include physicians and nurses, grocery store employees and convenience store clerks, warehouse workers and bus drivers, K-12 school teachers and instructional support staff, and cleaning services, among others. They have always been essential, maintaining services and performing work on which we all depend; they have often been underpaid and underappreciated. In the current health crisis, they are too often under protected as well.
As Virginia begins to ease public health restrictions, the frontline workers on which re-opening depends will be placed in increased jeopardy. Given the disproportionalities in the frontline workforce, the increased risk likewise falls even more heavily on people of color. Our region’s essential workers have a right to health and safety protections, paid sick leave, compensation in accord with the hazards they face, and more.
Community-based advocates from the Equity Center Local Steering Committee, working with UVA’s President’s Council on Community-University Partnerships, propose a Fair Treatment Charter for Frontline Workers outlining a comprehensive set of policies and practices.
People of color make up 26 percent of frontline workers, compared to 23 percent of the overall workforce; this disproportionality is larger for Black residents, who make up 13 percent of all workers and 18 percent of frontline workers.