Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Workin’ 9 to 5: Preparedness a challenge for low wage, hourly workers

Public health emergencies and disasters can be a strain for anyone, but for those who are already struggling to make ends meet — such as people who earn low, hourly wages — those threats can be devastating.

Recently, a staff member from the American Public Health Association met with a group of such workers in Washington, D.C. The group, which included people who worked in fast food, maintenance and a cleaning service, were asked what they would do in the event of a public health emergency or disaster such as pandemic flu.

Their responses were eye-opening: If they had to stay home due to pandemic flu or other public health emergency, the workers said they would be unpaid, and in some cases fired, if they were out a week or more. Missing work means a smaller paycheck, causing a strain for people who may not have much in reserve. The workers said they were familiar with planning efforts such as stockpiling, but given their financial constraints, were unable to do so. Overall, the workers said they felt disconnected, but wanted to be informed.

Their recommendations? Community groups, employers and health officials need to take special steps to make sure that people who are most vulnerable aren't overlooked.

Specifically, the workers said that employers should share information on preparedness at work. Given the large amounts of time spent on the job, the workplace would be an ideal forum for hourly-wage workers to receive pandemic flu information, including fact sheets, planning checklists and a list of resources such as food services or assisted care.

Employers should additionally make sure that if employees can't come to work because of a disaster that they wouldn't lose their jobs, the workers recommended.

Also helpful, said the workers, would be easier access to information. Pandemic flu-related materials should be disseminated in popular meeting places such as churches, public transportation stations, supermarkets and food banks, and not just online.

Only by recognizing now who is most vulnerable and reaching out to them can we truly say that our communities are prepared for the worst.

Do you have any other ideas how to distribute information about pandemic flu to our nation’s most vulnerable? What do you think would work? Let us know by using the comment feature below.


Anonymous said...

How would employers of hourly wage workers even communicate with employees to let them know if they were to come to work or not?

What about those that rely on temporary hires to make ends meet?

The effect on the economy of something like this - felt first and worst by the most vulnerable - will be devastating.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion,it is very important to focus on hourly wage workers and other special needs populations in regards to emergency preparedness. Special considerations and culturally competent policies need to be in place when critical decisions are being made.

Anonymous said...

We just can't forget that a lot of these workers don't have sick leave, so they will lose their jobs if they miss work. And they may not have health insurance. This adds up to a very problematic equation. Congress needs to put some kind of system in place now so hourly wage workers will have a safety net should a public health emergency occur. Something like emergency Medicaid would be a good step in the right direction.