Don’t Call Me Essential!

Unless you're willing to pay for the privilege.

Craig Axford

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Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash

Technically I’m not an “essential worker” at the moment. I joined the “great resignation” a few months back. However, I will likely be taking a temporary part-time position again in an essential sector soon.

I’ve discovered that part-time gig and service-sector work suits me fine. At least it does for now. The current labor shortage means I can tell the local grocery store I’ve applied to that I’m willing to work 1, 2, 3, or 4 days a week. They need workers and I have no interest in working more than needed to get by while I finish my master’s thesis and await other opportunities more consistent with both my values and my passions. If an employer won’t let me choose my hours, then I won’t work for them, period.

My “essential worker” interlude over the last few years was not planned. After an earlier career in the environmental non-profit sector and a few years working for a state party on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, my wife and I moved to Canada. That meant living as a temporary resident on a student visa followed by a work permit followed by another student visa when I decided to go for a master’s degree.

My age and temporary resident status made it difficult to find anything other than what has come to be referred to as “essential work” during the COVID era. I had a few interviews with employers for jobs more suitable to my background and the mid-life degrees I earned after moving north. Alas, there were plenty of Canadians to choose from that weren’t in any danger of losing their status as citizens to choose from.

That said, I rather like the word “essential” to describe what I’ve doing in recent years. Essential means foundational. It means nothing else can function without you and others like you. While all the office workers of the world working from home over the past 18 months were in jobs that could be done from anywhere at any hour or didn’t really need to be done at all, my co-workers and I were necessary. If we failed to show up when and where we were supposed to, the whole economic house of cards would collapse in short order.

Our essential status notwithstanding, we never got any hazard pay or bonuses for showing up to work every day like some…

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Craig Axford

M.A. in Environment and Management and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology & Environmental Studies. Living in Moab, Utah. A generalist, not a specialist.