how do I balance my labor shortage sympathy with annoyance at the inconvenience it causes?

A reader writes:

I want to start off this letter by saying I support workers 100% in organizing for better conditions and wages, whether by leaving their jobs or organizing for better treatment either via a formal union or collective bargaining. I applaud the people doing this right now and making the job market more employee-focused than employer-focused.

But … it kinda sucks in a practical way. Vendors and clients are late with everything because they don’t have the staff to meet deadlines anymore, which can make me and my company seem unreliable. When I had to go on an emergency road trip due to my mom’s failing health, I had to pee in the woods off the interstate because every gas station, restaurant, hotel, church, and store had their lobby or bathroom closed within a 50-mile radius at 12 p.m. on a Wednesday. (My mom is fine now, but it was good I could go.)

My friends and family are very split on this issue, and many are in the “suck it up and get back to work” camp, even though I strongly disagree and have always defended the side of worker’s rights when in these conversations. But it’s kind of tough to do that when I’m peeing in the sparse greens off the interstate and a trucker is honking at me because the sixth McDonald’s/gas station combo in a row won’t let me come in to use their bathroom, even though they’re all inside doing take-away food, and frankly it was dangerous for me as a woman traveling across the country alone. And I know, I know it’s against policy and could get them in trouble and I don’t want to do that, so I didn’t insist or anything but I did start asking around mile 30 (explaining my situation) and even felt crappy for trying to circumvent their stated hours…

I guess I’m just looking for advice on how to help advocate for workers better and not get overly frustrated in times of labor shortage like this.

Be frustrated! Just don’t be frustrated with workers. Be frustrated with the companies and social and political structures that are responsible.

No one has an obligation to work at any given job. If someone decides that a job isn’t safe enough, doesn’t pay enough, doesn’t treat them well enough, or otherwise doesn’t suit their needs, they have zero obligation to pay their dues to the capitalist machine by working there anyway. If they’re able to support themselves in a way more aligned with their own well-being, why wouldn’t they? (Hell, even if a job pays generously and treats workers well, people still have no obligation to work there. This is sort of the whole point of a free society.)

And really, if people feel they have options other than working at low-wage jobs in unsafe conditions … that’s a good thing for society as a whole, even when it causes personal inconveniences.

If employers with shortages really wanted to staff up, there are some well-proven ways of doing that: raise wages, improve working conditions, treat people well, be a workplace where people are willing to show up even when they have other options. But companies have gotten used to not having to do those things, and some of them are strongly resisting doing them now. That’s on them. They can’t say “the market supports this” when underpaying and mistreating people is to their advantage and then cry about that same free market when conditions turn against them.

(And for all the stories you see out there about labor shortages at companies that are offering good pay and decent working conditions, I say: read those stories with some skepticism. Last week’s post about companies trying to hire obviously wasn’t a scientific study, but it was full of accounts from people whose companies say they’re desperate to hire but are still paying way below market and haven’t taken obvious steps to make themselves more attractive to workers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to that … but there’s a larger picture to the stories some companies are telling about themselves right now.)

So by all means be frustrated! But look at what’s happening with clear eyes and be frustrated with the employers and the system that got us here.

{ 901 comments… read them below }

  1. Tasha*

    Buy a shepee/herinal device for emergency female stand-to-pee situations! Travel with it in your purse or vehicle.

    (I know, that doesn’t address the commenter’s real question.)

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      In a real pinch, adult diapers like Depends work really well and are invisible. They also give you great peace of mind.

      1. LCH*

        Ymmv. I tried them last year when driving home to see my mom and not wanting to risk exposure by stopping. The warm sensation is difficult to overcome.

      2. pancakes*

        Yuck, I’ll pass on those! I’d much rather consult Google maps or something similar to see what will be open along or near my route.

          1. pancakes*

            It wouldn’t show big box stores and other places likely to be open, along with their phone numbers to double-check? In the part of the country I live in it would.

            1. KaciHall*

              When places are closing for odd hours due to staffing shortage, they do not usually take the time to update their Google hours.

          2. never mind who I am*

            Even regular maps wouldn’t have helped in this situation. They’re not soft and absorbent enough.

        1. BeenThere*

          Can confirm having experienced that exact same thing on our last road trip, none of the mapping applications can tell you what is currently open. With the urgency and restrooms not being open we jumped from gas station to gas station only buying items from ones that did.

          1. Unicorn Parade*

            I’ve had a travel a few times via road trip during the pandemic, and I’ve never once had an issue finding a Royal Farms, WaWa, Sheetz, or Rutter’s open (I’m on the East Coast, if you couldn’t tell). The first two are almost always open 24/7, and all of them generally have clean restrooms. Royal Farm is the most hit or miss in my experience, as some older locations haven’t been updated with public restrooms. If no 24/7 gas stations were around, I’d probably try a Walmart or Target, depending on the time. Most Walgreen’s around me have public restrooms as well.

            I have a weak bladder and drink a massive amount of water; on a four-hour drive over the holidays I stopped five times to use a public restroom and had no issues.

            I would sooner die than squat along a highway, worst case scenario I’d find a cup or something to pee in inside my car and pour it out as soon as possible.

            1. Not Sure*

              I’m a little surprised by this too, and I’m curious where it was! We’ve obviously all experienced tons of things being closed unexpectedly or not offering their regular services. But I’ve driven/road-tripped a LOT in the past 2 years (in the western US), and between gas stations, grocery stores, fast food, coffee shops, truck stops, big box stores, shopping malls, rest areas – there’s always been SOMETHING. I wonder if this was a super rural area or one without any chains?

              1. Ellen*

                Had an experience similar to this in town in Augusta maine. Whole effing SERIES of fast food joints, gas stations, laundrimats- none open (admittedly on a sunday) so you could go in to pee. Im 51 years old, and worked in about half those places and personally knew the people at the drive thru window saying “im so sorry”. To be fair, they were universally hell to work in.

            2. Turtles All The Way Down*

              Although I’m team Wawa, I found on my road trip from PA to eastern TN that Sheetz was very convenient for bathrooms and beverages.

              1. Veryanon*

                Also Team Wawa, but I agree with you about Sheetz.
                In all the road trips I’ve had to take over the past two years, I’ve always been able to find a rest stop or something where I can stop to go to the bathroom even if the food serving options aren’t open. I stick to major highways, though, so if you have to go off the beaten track, your options may be more limited.
                On a recent drive between Philadelphia and the Baltimore area, several of the rest stops on I-95 were so short staffed that you couldn’t find anyplace open to buy food. But the bathrooms were open.

      3. anon for this*

        Hard disagree. Depends and most adult style pull-ups or diapers that are available in a grocery store can’t hold a full release of urine. They’re intended for small leaks and surges rather than a fully incontinent adult who is releasing large amounts of urine at once. If you intend to use an absorbent garment in place of a toilet, you should seek out a garment intended for more serious bladder control issues. NorthShore or Abena (Abena Abriflex, if you want pull-on style garments) would be my recommendation. Using just a Depends or Always Discreet risks leaking on your car’s seats, which would be a real pain to clean, and they’re also going to be less comfortable.

        source: I work in a related industry so I know a weird amount about this

        1. alienor*

          I have to agree here. I would pee in 1000 roadside ditches before willingly choosing a diaper. I mean, props to anyone who can do it, but that person isn’t me.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            For what’s it’s worth I can confirm those shepee things actually work. Not personal experience (the “guy” part of my username is accurate), but my ex-wife bought one for a camping trip a while back. You’ll need more paper than usual, pee splashed a lot more in the confined space and she wanted to wipe the actual device out, but it works as advertised. No (significant) mess and you can pee standing up while just undoing the front of your pants.

            Very convenient for the “gotta go in the woods” scenario.

            1. quill*

              It’s a lot easier (I say as someone with cis female anatomy) to pee in the woods than to poop in the woods. More chance of splashing your pants or shoes though: the trick is to know how to do wall squats and do one against a tree.

          2. Ellie*

            Yep. 5 minutes of embarrassment versus 6+ hours of having to wear a nappy… they’d have to be a solid risk of a bear attack and I’d probably still try to negotiate a back-seat potty arrangement than surrender to the nappy.

            I hear you though OP, life feels so kafkaesque right now. My advice is to allow yourself a little rant when no-one’s watching, and then just push on through, try to take as much time out for yourself as you can. There’s not much else we can do.

    2. Enginarian (Canada)*

      Open the front passenger door, open the back passenger door while parked with nothing visible on the passenger side.
      You have now created a three sided “potty”.
      Lean your lower back on the running board area of the front passenger door and no one can see you as you relieve yourself.

      1. JustaTech*

        I have done this when trapped on the highway due to snow closure and it works! Just look to see what the slope of the ground is and position your feet so the runoff doesn’t get on your shoes.

      2. Bun*

        I did exactly that on a road trip recently when I urgently needed to go during a 50-mile stretch where there were no obvious rest stops or gas stations – it wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it worked and nobody could see what I was doing.

      3. the cat's ass*

        Are you my parents? Because we ALWAYS did this on road trips because my mom was phobic about public bathrooms, tho not, apparently, about public exposure. We used to rig a giant beach towel up between the car doors for more privacy. I was in my late teens before it dawned on me that not everyone did this.

        1. Amy*

          I don’t do that, but frankly I’d rather pee in the grass if hidden than in a public toilet. Especially prefer grass over a port-a-potty!! The #2 is the problem though…

        2. never mind who I am*

          My grandparents had four daughters, and a car named Bill with a funnel leading to a hole in the floor.

      4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        Had to do this with my son in 30 degree F. weather not too long ago because he decided between rest stops that it had to be NOW RIGHT NOW and he’s still potty training so there’s no “wait a minute” button for him yet.

      5. Frieda*

        You can buy a circular pop up “tent” (no roof, iirc) that’s designed for privacy for changing on the beach or peeing outside while camping. I have one but haven’t used it during Covid-era travel, mostly because my young adult daughter was totally opposed and drew a line in the sand.

      6. Curious*

        Is this legal in the US? Please note: I’m NOT suggesting that it shouldn’t be: I’m just wondering if doing this risks arrest!

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          If you’re a POC then, yes, it risks arrest.

          Otherwise, you’d get a warning and maaaaaaaaybe a ticket.

        2. TexasTeacher*

          There was a woman a few years ago who was cited and charged for letting her 3 yr old urinate in a parking lot (he couldn’t wait). Fortunately the charges were dropped after a lot of publicity, but still!
          I grew up in a time and place in which every kid I knew at some time or another had to take care of business outdoors sometimes. Now, we have Buccee’s.

      7. Lizzo*

        All fine and good unless you have children or animals in the vehicle who would make a run for it if doors were left open. Speaking from experience.

    3. Just another person*

      On the interstate – I do all I can to wait for the next public rest area. Takes a lot of time getting on/off at exits stopping at businesses looking for an open restroom. Some areas are better for this than others.

      I like the idea of depends but haven’t tried yet. Desperate times we live in.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Months before the pandemic my state’s highway restrooms cut their hours: open from 8am-3pm. Yes, they were closed during the hours when it is hardest for travelers to go off the interstate.
        Last time I had to go in, I noticed that they had restored hours….but I no longer trust that highway rest stops will be available.

        1. Becky*

          I didn’t know highway rest stops had hours of operation!

          The weirdest highway rest stop I ever went to was somewhere in Nevada–it was literally just a single stall building with a pit toilet (like you get at some parks). Had electricity–no running water or hand sanitizer. And it was on top of a mountain in snow. My friend and I stopped there and went and then washed our hands in the freezing cold with soap from a bride’s maid’s gift bag from the bride for whom we were travelling home from her wedding and bottled water. It was very very cold.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            It varies wildly by state. In Louisiana many rest stops don’t even have facilites. You’re lucky if there’s a picnic table. Some of them are basically glorified parking lots where you can “rest”. Some do have small dedicated bathroom buildings, but you can’t count on it.

            Here in Massachusetts they’re all huge gas station/fast food court/convenience store things. I believe the bathrooms are 24/7, but the other services very definitely have hours.

            Connecticut usually has a smaller version of the thing we have in MA, but I think when the store is closed the rest room is too. So in their case I think the rest room do close.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              Minnesota has some very nice rest stops that are 24/7 off of most major highways. They’re pretty close to the road and there’s not a ton of tree coverage, so they’re reasonably well lit. Just a few reasons why people without housing but who have a car tend to stay in the parking lots. Not sure I’d use one in the middle of the night though (not because I worry about the people sleeping in their cars, just that I watch an unhealthy amount of true crime shows).

        2. kt*

          Honestly this is one of the things making working conditions much worse for truckers, as well — and poor working conditions for truckers -> shortage of truck drivers -> increased cost and time for transportation of goods.

          It’s a big factor in our supply chain snarls in the US, and it’s tough because truckers can’t easily force employers to provide places to park, rest stops, bathrooms, safe waiting areas when waiting through loading and unloading, etc. As with so many things these days, it’s clear that governments need to provide some (infrastructure) and private businesses need to provide others, whether forced to via social norms or regulation.

          1. Unicorn Parade*

            Are there no 24/7 gas stations with clean public restrooms outside of the Mid-Atlantic, where I live? I never realized I was literally spoiled for options between Royal Farms, WaWa, and Sheetz.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa have large truck stops off of major freeway interchanges. Some even have showers if they’re on a busy East-West route. Also, most of our mid- to large-sized cities have 24/7 grocery stores and Walmarts.

              1. Anonymous4*

                Yes, but 24/7 grocery stores aren’t set up for truckers to sit down and get a hot meal or take a shower, even if the stores might have a parking lot where a few 18-wheelers can park while the drivers go inside. And frankly, I don’t see a grocery store’s manager being real happy about having 18-wheelers in the parking lot.

                And we have Sheetz and Wawa gas stations in my area, but they’ve got no room for 18-wheelers either.

            2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

              I live in a Midwest city, and there are gas stations throughout the city and suburbs. All around the periphery of the suburbs there are truck stops with clean restrooms, showers, and convenience stores that also carry basic dude-type clothing and other supplies, and usually a sit-down restaurant that offers good but greasy food (if you’re not vegetarian or vegan). Between cities the small towns all have gas stations – I’m partial to Casey’s for clean facilities, but there are other good ones. Most fast food places have the restrooms down a short hallway right by the door so you don’t have to actually go inside to purchase anything. At the major highway interchanges there are more truck stops and if there are chain lodgings, usually fast food or budget restaurants with restrooms (you might have to buy a cupcake or something to take away if it’s a sit-down place). The only places I’ve run into with restroom shortages were southern Indiana because there were no highway exits or interchanges for miles and miles, and also in parts of Pennsylvania along the southern stretch between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. We take a LOT of road trips and I’ve never had to pee outdoors. In a pinch, parks usually have basic bathrooms or vault toilets (good old outhouses) which I don’t mind using, and in a pinch, I’ll use a porta-potty, but they’re my least favorite. I always keep plenty of Kleenex and hand sanitizer in the car, so I’m literally good to go.

            3. quill*

              Depends on how far from the nearest town you are. Middle of indiana, illinois, the plains, the desert? You get signs like “no gas or water 50 miles.”

        3. shedubba*

          Where are you that highway rest areas close? I can’t remember the last time I saw a rest area where the bathrooms closed nightly, though the ones with tourism centers or museums tend to have more limited hours on those sections. My experience with rest areas during covid has actually been good, in that they are keeping them a lot cleaner than they used to.

          1. wordswords*

            This is something that very much varies state to state. In my part of the northeast US, a lot of rest areas close at night, though they generally have a 24/7 vending machine area and often a port-a-potty or two.

          2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            All of Connecticut the rest stops are only limited daytime hours. So driving to/from New England south gets you this problem…

          3. fueled by coffee*

            Can confirm that early in the pandemic (March 2020-ish)?, Pennsylvania closed all rest stops — but left port-a-potties outside. They’ve since gone back to being open.

      2. ..Kat..*

        The public rest areas where I live are high crime areas. The law enforcement officers that I know have advised me to avoid them.

    4. Mary*

      I had the same thought! I know it’s no help with the commentor’s actual question, but I bought one specifically for long car travel during the pandemic and it’s performed fabulously. Cost me $12 on Amazon (PStyle).

      For maximum discretion, I cleared a spot inside my car where I was able to kneel or squat (note: required an internal receptacle for the waste). If I wore a dress for ease of access and strategically concealed my actions with a scarf, I had almost perfect privacy even in a well-lighted, crowded parking lot.

      Frankly, after the pandemic lifts and festivals are a thing again, I’m looking forward to future visits to Porta Pottys where I won’t be required to touch the interior ever again.

      1. lilsheba*

        The only problem is if one is disabled this does not work at all. I can’t squat, I have to be able to sit on a regular toilet, and I’m on meds that make me pee a lot, so I am scared to do road travel at this point.

        1. Mary*

          You make a very good point and I wonder if the earlier commenter’s suggestion of the car door/three-sided privacy room would be viable for persons with mobility complications. A scarf could still provide a visual screen for the fourth side. A standing position would remain likely the speediest option (which improves the discretion in my option), but perhaps something like a lightweight, foldable support chair intended for use in the shower/bathing could be adapted and transported for a seated position?

          I do apologize, I’m just theorizing here and I have no idea if this would be a practical solution.

          1. Queen Anon*

            Instead of a shower chair, a lightweight, foldable camp toilet might be easier. It always makes me think of a tv tray stand with a plastic toilet seat attached. There’s a big, disposable plastic bag attached beneath the toilet seat. I wouldn’t use one because I’m quite heavy and I’ve never seen one rated for my weight but for the average range of human bodies, it’s fine. Not great, but doable.

            My biggest concern about peeing outside anymore (not that I’ve done in in 30 years but my husband has in an emergency) is that some states now consider that indecent exposure. I’ve heard anecdata about men, in particular, ending up on a sex offender registry because they got caught peeing outdoors. As I said, anecdata so take that for what it’s worth. (I’ve seen men on our state’s registry for indecent exposure but details aren’t provided so they may well all be actual purposeful exposure.)

            1. lilsheba*

              aha see I also have the problem of being heavy so it’s double fun. Disabled and heavy don’t make for a good combo.

        2. AnonForThis*

          Ironically, my disability makes it easier for me to go in non standard locations–I intermittent self cath to void my bladder so I have always been able to go standing– though because anatomy it is still different from how men are able to.

        3. WS*

          Also mobility-impaired and a wide-mouthed disposable cup has been my friend if you can stand and hang onto the car and car door for a minute (and honestly it’s been easier fat because the tops of my thighs hold it in place). Pee, put it down, clean up, tip it out on the ground, put the remaining bits and pieces in a sealed plastic bag until you get somewhere with a bin. Give it a go at home!

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I might add that a gallon Ziploc bag (or sturdy clone) really does hold liquids well, as we found out when my daughter was carsick on a no-stop freeway).

        4. ShinyPenny*

          Lilsheba, I’m also disabled and unable to bend knees (& etc.), heavy, and female anatomy. My solution involves a sturdy 2 quart plastic pitcher with sturdy handle (the cheap, standard, colored-plastic, “picnic” kind that has vertical sides), wearing a skirt (unless actually out in the woods), and standing upright with feet apart (hanging onto car or tree for balance). A fairly good seal can be achieved, lol. And… put the lid back on and secure upright (ie, wedged with towel into untippable 5 gallon bucket) and you are good to go!
          If hip flex is an issue, or you are away from your car, you can use a smaller/narrower sturdy container, like a 20- 30 oz reusable plastic picnic cup, that also… creates a good seal. But they aren’t as deep, so work best when the setting allows for immediate dumping, or prior planning has been done. And, no handle– but much more compact.
          I had to wait outside a hospital for hours while a friend had surgery, in the Early Days before vaccinations, and the plastic pitcher method worked very well. A long skirt is super helpful, but I also used good magnets to attach a twin sheet across the open car doors to create a fast cubicle. And I pulled alongside a wall in the deserted basement-level of the hospital parking garage, too– and still felt pretty stressed about the cultural taboo of “peeing in public,” but it was a life or death situation, so, whatever! Functionally, it was a totally successful hack. However, I would also be read as a middle aged, middle class white woman, and was in a safe part of a pretty upscale town. So, I am grieved that this solution might not be safe for other disabled people. Physically, it worked well.

      2. Ashloo*

        Love the PStyle for hiking. Makes me feel a lot safer than trying to find enough privacy on moderately busy trails. Thankfully I’ve not had to stop on the side of the road, but it would be a good product rec to have in emergencies.

      3. KateM*

        I have seen bottle-shaped things for that being advertised – pee on go (has a shewee kind of thing as well), screw the lid on, pour it out when you are back in a place with normal toilet. I haven’t bought or used one, though.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          I’ve seen them advertised for little kids. My PeePee Bottle? It looked like a wide mouthed water bottle with a lid, to me.

      4. never mind who I am*

        For a road trip to visit my mother, I wasn’t sure what type of facilities would be available, so I got a portable urinal and portable toilet (the kind with a bag). I had to postpone the trip so I haven’t tried the latter, though I’ve used them in other situations. Two factors make my situation different from yours: I’m a man, and I have a cargo van that provides a considerable amount of privacy. YMMV!

      5. Glad there isn't a #3*

        I find the Biffy Bag handy. Wear a skirt, use the car door for a screen, sit on the edge of the car seat, and tie in place – and can do #1 and #2. Includes a few pieces of toilet paper and a hand wipe. Wrap everything up into itself and toss in the normal toss. I’ve even used it in a shop’s changing room when had food poisoning. I didn’t dare look at the staff when I left but I left a perfectly clean room.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      I do understand why the LW made the assumption that they could use these business restrooms (they always have), but those business’s purposes are not to supply restrooms. The restrooms a perk for paying dine-in customers that is not available during COVID (or the labor shortage but I think its COVID). If there’s no customers, there’s no need for the restrooms for customers.

      LW needs to plan driving trips with a different assumption.

      1. theycallmemimi*

        Gas station restrooms are a commonly-relied-upon option when public rest areas are few or– as I’ve seen on my own trips from time to time– inexplicably closed. I don’t think LW was unreasonable to need to pee just because many businesses have “closed” restrooms for largely cosmetic purposes that don’t address the realities of the pandemic.

      2. moql*

        Why are you assuming LW didn’t plan on sitting down at a restaurant after using their restroom? In my area it is only a recent change that some restaurants do not let you sit down, and there are no legally required closures in my state at all. This isn’t universal and it’s weird you’re thinking the worst of LW’s intentions.

        1. Curious*

          On the one hand, I haven’t eaten in a sit-down restaurant indoors since COVID — it is impracticable to do so while masked, and the alternative is just too scary to me. On the other hand, I (and a bunch of other commenters below) do believe in purchasing at least *something* whenever I use the restroom at a gas station/7-11/etc.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Yes, this – when we stop to use a business’s restroom, my DH and I make a point of buying something. Drinks, a snack – something. If it was McDonald’s, we’d at least get some fries and a drink, or maybe a couple of apple pies or something.

          1. starsaphire*

            I call this the “iced tea tax.” I use your loo, buy an iced tea (or some other item that costs you pennies to make and five seconds to serve me) and we are even.

      3. Lizzie B*

        And this is also why no one wants to be a long-distance driver or even Amazon delivery driver – public funding into safe, clean facilities has become a thing of the past. There’s a lot companies can and should do to improve working environments, but public facilities must also be addressed by local and possibly even nation-wide governments as that’s not under those companies’ control.

        1. Whimsical Gadfly*

          Companies paying taxes would go a long way towards improving things like infrastructure though…

          1. licorice*

            Same with I-80 in Pennsylvania. Lots of comfortable, well-lit rest stops with relatively clean bathrooms.

      4. The OG Sleepless*

        I generally get a drink or a bottled water from anywhere I have to use the restroom. Restrooms for customers only? You got it. I’m a customer.

        But what I ran into on my last road trip, and what it sounds like the LW ran into, is that a bunch of gas stations/fast food places won’t let *anyone* in.

      5. Metadata minion*

        In plenty of areas, restaurants and gas stations really are the only vaguely-public restroom available. I really wish actually-public restrooms were a thing in the US the way they are in some (all?) of Europe.

        1. Becky*

          In my experience there are WAY more public restrooms in the US than in Europe. At least free ones.

          1. Attention Dior*

            Oh definitely. I am continuously in trouble because I have to pee all the time I can’t just go everywhere when traveling outside North America, except maybe Australia. Although, McDonald’s in most countries (including Russia) are usually open and free!

          2. Curious*

            Yes! I remember visiting Austria a couple of years ago, and having to pay either 50 cents or a euro every time I had to use a public restroom.

            1. Becky*

              Had that experience in Italy, Greece, Spain, the UK and Turkey (though technically I think I may have been on the Asian side of Turkey at the time)!

            2. Momma Bear*

              Someone in Ireland once paid the 20p or whatever it was fee for me when I had a toddler that was desperate and I had no change. I don’t know who you are, mystery woman, but I am still grateful for that help! US bathrooms generally don’t have a fee.

              1. Anonymous4*

                Years ago, people used to have to pay to use the toilet in airports, train stations and museums. I believe there were other places that had pay toilets as well but I don’t remember the details. It wasn’t much — a dime or a quarter, as I recall — and the money was supposed to pay for cleaning and stocking the toilets.

                1. Anonymous4*

                  N.B. I just checked, and that dime works out to the equivalent of $0.75 today, and the quarter was equivalent to $2.00 today, so it was actually pretty pricey to use a pay toilet.

                2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                  It was also some businesses, and their way to keep the “riff-raff” out. You can guess who they usually meant.

            3. TexasTeacher*

              My kid had to go badly when we were in line to see Notre Dame in Paris a few years ago. He spent two euros on the “luxury” public restrooms and when he returned, he emphatically told me that they were NOT luxury. Lol

      6. DrRat*

        I had this same situation happen when I travelled up to the L.A. area around Thanksgiving. Stopped at a gas station and filled up at exorbitant prices, only to find the little market area was open, but the restrooms were closed. So I WAS in fact a customer and there was EVERY need for a restroom. And frankly, if I’m shelling out $5 a gallon for gas, I expect a restroom. Fortunately in my case there was a Target store open across the street.

        To the original OP, when I had to travel in the Southwest from California to Arizona early in pandemic and even the rest areas were closed, I relied on truck stops. Truck stops HAVE to have restrooms (and usually showers, etc.) or the truckers will take their business elsewhere. I usually stop at Love’s when I can find one – they have a much friendlier vibe and every time I stop the women’s restrooms are clean.

        1. Mannequin*

          Businesses in the L.A. area have been weird & stingy about letting people use their bathrooms for decades.

      7. Darsynia*

        On my last road trip, the gas station I used and the fast food restaurant I ate at both did not allow customers to use the restroom. Not everyone is ‘freeloading’ or whatever your assumption is.

      8. Cheap Ass Rolex*

        These are places (fast food mainly) that due to Covid are fully employees only for the restrooms, no matter how much you buy. I’ve been running into that for two years now on cross-state trips. And public rest stops can be 45 minutes apart if they’re even open- not always doable to hold it for that long.

      9. Lalala*

        I wouldn’t assume OP is a freeloader — in my experience (Northeast & Midwest US) it is the norm for gas stations along major interstate highways (often with shops or fast food spots inside them) located right by highway exits to be understood as restroom stops for travelers. It is polite to buy something or fill up on gas there, but not really required in the way it would be if you drove into town and walked into a mom and pop diner. (Though I realize norms may be different elsewhere!)

      10. Not Sure*

        I don’t know why you’re assuming that LW wasn’t planning to make a purchase wherever she stopped to use the restroom?

      11. D*

        In many areas, areas that do food within x miles of an interstate or highway are legally required to have public restrooms that even non-customers can use. While buying something is nice the idea that you HAVE to make a purchase to satisfy a basic bodily function is just wrong and frankly dehumanizing.

    6. DCDM*

      I look for Cracker Barrels along the interstates. I can usually skulk in to use their bathrooms with minimal interaction.

      1. emmers*

        Yes, Cracker Barrels are ideal because they have the restrooms in the gift shop before the host station.

    7. Holly_Bee*

      On a long road trip during the early days of the pandemic, I discovered that grocery stores, Walmarts and Targets are reliably open with restrooms available.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, Walmarts and other big box stores are the best because they usually stay open late and you can dart in and out easily without buying anything.

        1. Merrie*

          On the route we take to visit my in-laws, there’s a Meijer immediately off the freeway about an hour from our house (on the outskirts of a medium-sized town) and the bathrooms are immediately inside the front door. We have stopped there many a time on road trips. We shop at Meijer from time to time so I don’t feel bad if we don’t buy anything–another time I know we will.

        2. licorice*

          Yeah, in a lot of Wal-Marts and Targets the bathrooms are in the front, before you even get to the main shopping areas.

    8. Annie E. Mouse*

      Another pro tip, hiking trails. One of our go-to vacation spots requires us to drive through the middle of nowhere where you literally go 100+ miles without passing a public bathroom. But it’s a popular spot that a lot of people from Big City go to, so there are lots of cars driving through nowhere, meaning you’re in view if you try to pop a squat, and of course the line is a mile long when you finally do get to the first Mickey D’s. Last year in a pinch, I pulled out my All-Trails app and found a trailhead with a bathroom that was only a mile off the road. It was clean and open, but if it hadn’t been I could have peed in the woods with a little distance from traffic.

      1. BeenThere*

        All-Trails is great idea, I didn’t realize it listed trail bathrooms! I can go anywhere, I just don’t want to get fined or worse.

      2. Anon UT resident*

        Throwing out a quick caution – All-Trails, hiking trail bathrooms in Utah are very hit and miss with regards to actually being open.
        Budget cuts is the reason given most often.

    9. Cold Fish*

      Traveled the west half of the US by car extensively. I usually try and find truck stops as I’ve had the most luck with open (and clean) restrooms. I haven’t been anywhere in the last two years but trucks have been essential, have truck stops convenience stores been closed?

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Not in my experience driving around NV, UT, AZ, NM, and CO. Pilot, Love’s, and Maverick have all had bathrooms open during the pandemic or did at least when I have been traveling (7-10 times in past 2 yrs)

        1. Lunch Ghost*

          And the gas is often cheaper too! The Pilot around the halfway point was my usual gas + restroom stop on my way to and from college.

        2. Anon UT resident*

          We go Maverick and then Pilot – just because the Maverick’s tend to have cleaner and larger women’s bathrooms.

    10. Sammy Keyes*

      Or a travel toilet, like a Luggable Loo! You put a little garbage bag and some kitty litter inside a bucket, and attach a toilet seat-esque topper to make it actually comfortable. Works really well if you’re physically unable to squat to pee. I bought a changing-room sized tent to go with it, which is super easy to set up and take down, so when I had to drive 10 hours at the height of covid, I would just set up my own private restroom at a rest area or out of the way parking lot.

      1. Sylvia*

        Yes! When I worked for a school, every classroom had a lock-down kit consisting of the luggable loo and a shower curtain for privacy, to be used if there was something dangerous going on in the area and the students couldn’t safely leave school.

    11. Random Biter*

      Invest in some of the extra long, heavy incontinence pads, I recommend Always brand. Not a perfect solution, but it’ll usually get you to where there’s a bathroom without having to wonder how you’re going to hide an enormous wet spot on your clothing and clean your car seat. Also, recommend having a thick, folded bath towel on your car seat. Been there, done that, you’re not alone here.

      1. TootsNYC*

        In a “what should you have in your car” post on Reddit, the top answer at one point was “plastic bags.”
        One use being you could put one over your car seat to protect it from wet or muddy clothes.

        I cut a wrapping paper tube into a shorter length, cut out a thing slit along the center, slipped in a roll of tall kitchen garbage bags, and folded in the ends.

    12. GlitsyGus*

      I love my SheePee. I take it camping, to concerts (basically anywhere I may need to use a porta-potty). It took a little practice, but now I will never go back.

      (no, it doesn’t answer the bigger issue in the letter, but I am a total fan girl for this thing and sing its praises whenever possible.)

    13. Momma Bear*

      Honestly, yes. When I was a kid we kept a coffee can with a lid in the car. I’d also plan my route past rest stops, which are usually open even in these plague times. Places not being open (or no one being masked) is also a frustration for parents so I feel your pain.

      Everything is late. Everything is behind. Everything is on back order. I can’t even get my cat food right now. Schools can’t run buses, if they’re even open. Etc.

      BE frustrated. It is frustrating. I think all we can do as individuals is encourage as many people as we can to mitigate all we can. It’s not about the individual worker or business, but the situation as a whole.

  2. Clefairy*

    I’d also be pre-emptive with telling your OWN clients that, due to supply chain issues, things may and likely WILL be delayed. By getting it out there ahead of time about these delays will likely help make sure your clients do see you as unreliable, but rather, let them know that all of these huge issues they are seeing everywhere are also affecting your company’s output.

    1. Clefairy*

      ***By getting it out there ahead of time about these delays, you will likely help make sure your clients don’t see you as unreliable, but rather, let them know that all of these huge issues they are seeing everywhere are also affecting your company’s output.

      That’s what I get for not proof-reading!

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      We’ve had to do this. I work at a commercial service company, and EVERYTHING is delayed/ short. It’s definitely a snowball situation with both pricing and availability. Supplies are short, shipping is delayed, and manufacturers are short staffed. We’ve added clauses to all our contracts that pricing is good for 7 days, and availability is very subjective. If I’m told something will take a week, I tell the customer 10-14 days.

      Some companies aren’t even giving etas anymore, which is so frustrating, but they’re as frustrated and anxious as we are.

    3. Antilles*

      100% agree. If you have vendors that are backed up, you should be telling your clients that up front and setting expectations correctly. Maybe you’re worried this will cause people to look elsewhere, but in my experience, that rarely actually happens.
      -Plenty of customers don’t really have a hard-and-fast deadline; what they really have is simply an expectation that they can rely on you – tell me two weeks and make it two weeks and I’m fine; tell me one week and make it two weeks and I’m irritated even if I really didn’t need it sooner.
      -Your competitors are having the same issues with their vendors. Shoot, there’s a good chance they’re even using the exact same vendors you are so of course they’re having the same problems.
      -The economy-wide supply chain issues have been so well reported on that everyone has heard about them, at least in a vague way. So when you say your supply chain is backed up, your customer isn’t going to blame specifically you because he’s heard about it elsewhere too.

    4. theycallmemimi*

      And communicate as clearly as you can when there are timelines you know! The frustration I’ve had mostly is with a lack of transparency. I don’t get nearly as upset about a delay as I get about confusion and lack of information.

      1. Talvi*

        I don’t get nearly as upset about a delay as I get about confusion and lack of information.

        Absolutely this!

        You could phrase it along the lines of “at this time we anticipate your order will take 7 days to complete; however, please understand that we cannot guarantee this timeline due to ongoing supply chain issues” or something.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        Agreed!

        My grocery delivery was an hour late the other day. For no real reason. I don’t mind things running behind, but can you like, let me know that?

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Almost every online order I’ve placed in recent months has included a disclaimer like this. I think it’s great, because it helps the customer create expectations that are more reasonable.

    6. COHikerGirl*

      I backed some Kickstarters in the early days of the pandemic (this one might have been just before). One of them was supposed to be delivered October 2020. It’s just now getting on freight boats to get to distribution centers. Am I antsy I haven’t gotten the game? Yes! I want to play! But they (along with every other creator) has kept people up to date about where things are and how everything is going. That communication is what’s important. I only think less of people when they don’t communicate issues (same with waitressing…you let me know of an issue, no problem!). Even though everyone knows there are delays at this point…still communicate.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Also having this problem are card gamers and tarot card afficionados. It is so hard to find card manufacturers within the US– most of them outsource to China. Ditto all the fancy add-ons like gilded edges and foil stamping.

          1. Solana*

            Yeah, I ordered some special Cards Against Humanity cards for a Christmas present in August, and found out the week of Christmas Eve that they were having shipping issues. Thank goodness for the nearby geek shop where I found a fabulous replacement gift!

    7. Dust Bunny*

      This. When I ship stuff (even before COVID) I tell the person that it will take at least 24 hours for the tracking number to show up in the postal system so they don’t panic when it doesn’t register right away. Pretty normal for our reliable but smallish and perpetually somewhat overwhelmed post office. I’ve yet to have anyone get mad at me.

      1. Artemesia*

        Yeah love that. And there have been several articles about people applying to the companies crowing that ‘people don’t want to work’ and ‘we can’t get workers’ and then even though qualified for the jobs not getting any response. The ‘no one wants to work’ is often for show while the company takes advantage of the moment to save money by understaffing. People who do want to work are finding it hard to get call backs. Time for all jobs to either have benefits or for some ‘benefits’ like health care to be severed from jobs. We only do it this way for historical reasons during a period when wages were capped during the second world war and so health care was added as a way of raising wages. It is a ridiculous way to provide health care coverage and countries with effective health care don’t do it that way.

        1. That IT Guy*

          I’ve heard the hypothesis that a ton of these open jobs aren’t even real, but are there to “prove” that companies needed the PPP money they got. This would not shock me in the least.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*

            I hadn’t heard that from anyone, but, I *was* already assuming it about some companies I have encountered who are, frankly, grifter-adjacent.

          2. Avril Ludgateau*

            Back before PPP, companies would post openings with ridiculous expectations (27.325 years experience – no more no less -, terminal degree in the field, invented at least one programming language, speaks 14 languages including at least 2 extinct or endangered ones… $12/hr). They’d do this because, in order to sponsor H1B visas, you must demonstrate that the position cannot be filled locally. A local applicant, even if somehow qualified, would likely pass over it for the low wage, but an applicant from overseas doesn’t have the necessary context to understand $12/hr (or whatever) is an exploitative wage. There are technically rules regarding prevailing wages, but even those haven’t kept up with trends, and there is very little enforcement or protection of foreign workers once they are already on American soil. (I’ve witnessed this first hand.)

            All this to say… I could absolutely see this as a strategy to avoid paying back PPP loans. MIT did some study that PPP cost taxpayers $220,000 per job ‘saved’. The median per capita income in the US is between $40,000 and $60,000 depending on the source. A lot of this waste was due to large, wealthy corporations who rightfully should have been excluded but simply had the resources to apply (while the small businesses didn’t), and now they have the resources and the savvy to further game the system.

        2. many bells down*

          Yup, my daughter’s boyfriend went to every restaurant in their small town with a “sorry we’re short staffed” sign and not one called him back. He has years of restaurant experience.

          1. Sylvia*

            The same thing happened to my son–he has been applying at restaurants with help wanted signs for a month with no callbacks. He finally got a job yesterday, the old fashioned way–through a friend!

        3. Cascadia*

          Yup! A major ski area (owned by a massive corporation known for their low wages and questionable workplace conditions) isn’t even fully open, claiming a worker shortage, saying ‘no one wants to work!’ Yet, the 3-4 other ski areas in the area have all managed to find enough employees to be fully open. On some recent social media threads, multiple people posted that they applied for jobs at this ski area and never got called back, so they are now working at the competitor ski areas. No surprise that the large corporate owned ski area that took away all their employee housing, lowered wages, and took away a bunch of the benefits now can’t find workers… hmmmmm….

          1. KTB1*

            And the massive corporation also didn’t mention that in addition to staffing issues (brought on by their own issue), they also didn’t bother to do the off season maintenance that would have allowed them to open half of the resort. But it’s totally the fault of those lazy people who don’t want to do the work, not the half-assed management who is only focused on the bottom line /sarcasm

        4. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, I’ve been applying for jobs and my most recent interview request was for a company that further research indicated was… well, a shitshow. It’s really no wonder they were willing to hire me.

          (honestly? I don’t know if I’m actually going to schedule that interview. on the one hand, the role isn’t one of the ones that had such damning reviews- it might be insulated from the toxicity, and if it sucks I can hit the bricks. on the other hand… arguably a bad job as my first job could mess me up more than no job, and I’m not desperate yet.)

        5. Meg Murry*

          The other obnoxious part is the companies that whine “no one wants to work! Everyone calls off too much!”
          Well, when you don’t offer ANY paid sick leave, pay poverty level wages, and take zero pandemic precautions other than putting out a couple of bottles of hand sanitizer- sickness is going to spread rampant through the workplace (both COVID and your standard cold/flu/etc bugs). Then your employees are in the “damned if you don’t, damned if you do” situation where they get yelled at and go unpaid if they call off sick, but are miserable and making all their coworkers hate them if they come to work ill. And that’s before you get to school and daycare closures, sick kids, etc.

          Most companies that say “no one wants to work” need to amend that to add “for a company that treats them terribly” to the end of that sentence.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            Amen.

            I remember hearing “It would be so easy to replace all of these shitty workers!” from those companies. But now that it’s actually happening and they have to replace all those ‘shitty’ workers, turns out it was their own BS all along.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      CAPITALISM. It feels like a Scooby Doo villain reveal!

      Was it….. government handouts? NO WAIT THE HANDOUTS IS WEARING A MASK.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      Yes, I always picture that Leo DiCaprio meme from Django Unchained when I see people who love capitalism getting mad when capitalism works.

      1. Salad Daisy*

        Anyone who has not seen this movie definitely should. One of the most powerful movies I have ever seen, besides showing what tremendous range Jamie Foxx has as an actor.

  3. And Peggy*

    It struck me as I was reading this that a lot of marginalized workers (uber drivers, delivery people, Amazon warehouse workers, etc.) also don’t have reliable bathroom access while on the job.

    1. miro*

      This is true. Plus, at least where I am a lot of stuff with bathrooms being closed was due to Covid sanitation concerns rather than staffing, so I’d really encourage OP not to blame workers for that (or anything, but especially that).

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is the rationale that I am hearing in my area for ALL public park bathrooms being closed – due to Covid Concerns we can’t keep them properly sanitized.
        So now trips to the park with kids have to be dramatically shorter, and don’t get me started on the state of some public hiking/jogging paths because the bathrooms along them are also closed……

        1. Artemesia*

          It is almost entirely an excuse to just not have to bother with what is always an unpleasant task.

          1. bleh*

            Yup – just like going to credit card only (no touch) is something companies wanted to do long before Covid. It just provided an excuse to not take the legal currency of the country they do business in because they can bypass a) trips to a bank b) worker theft where applicable c) teaching workers to make change.

            1. Amethystmoon*

              Good point. Credit cards are classist. Not everyone has good enough credit to have one. It also takes a certain credit score to get a bank account, so the same problem exists with ATM cards.

              1. pancakes*

                It’s illegal in my city (NYC) to be a cashless store or restaurant but a few stubborn places are just taking the fines. The fines apparently aren’t high enough for them.

                1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  Any crime that’s only punished by a fine is only a crime for people who aren’t wealthy.

                2. Anonymous4*

                  Depends on how those fines are structured.
                  First offense, $100.
                  Second offense, $250.
                  Third offense, $500.
                  Fourth offense, $1000.
                  Fifth offense, $2,500.
                  Sixth offense, $5,000.

                  How long do you think they’ll decide to absorb the fines?

                3. pancakes*

                  Anonymous4, it’s not quite that cheap! Van Leeuwen ice cream has happily eaten $12,570 in fines. These are fines for businesses, not individuals. Checking on this just now, I see that Philadelphia, SF, NJ, and Massachusetts have similar laws.

          2. Starbuck*

            Yeah. I work adjacent to a public park, and they closed those bathrooms during COVID due to ‘vandalism.’ I was in and out of there right around when they said that happened (I have extra access because of where I work) and it’s a flat out lie. It’s because they don’t want to / can’t staff them.

            Our society as a whole has refused to invest in public bathrooms, and this is the consequence. A shorter urinary leash for everyone who needs bathroom access to participate in society.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              My city decided to put in ‘fancy’ restrooms in a downtown park. Very expensive. They promptly never ever opened them because of ‘vandalism’. It was really because they didn’t want homeless people using the bathrooms.

              Then the city bus station made it so that you had to ask at the window to have the restrooms unlocked for you. So if you only have three minutes to transfer to your bus, you don’t have time to use the restrooms there.

          3. FriendlyLocalParkManager*

            Hi, friendly local park manager here. This is a pretty oversimplified explanation of the situation.

            Staffing shortages + PPE shortages (which are still hard to keep stocked, especially during surges) + huge increase in use + a larger portion of our budgets going to COVID response + decreased tax revenues due to the shut downs last year have all created a perfect storm for a lot of us.

            We know that part of our job is to clean up poo, as unpleasant as that part of our job is. I promise our decision to close certain facilities is more complex than an aversion to that.

            1. FriendlyLocalParkManager*

              Also, I know the answer to staffing shortages is to pay more, but many governments can’t make those changes easily. Our salary bands have to be approved at high levels, and we’re not seeing budget increases, so we’d have to absorb any payroll increases into our operations budget.

              I guess that’s to say, please extend civil servants the same grace that’s being extended to other workers in this comment section. The change needs to come from political leaders who set tax and fiscal policy to make some of the structural changes needed for us to respond to this unique point in time. We just don’t have the flexibility to make the changes that need to be made right now.

              1. BeenThere*

                Totally get it and I hope things improve. I love my local park! It’s been a source of relaxation throughout the entire pandemic and before.

                For what it’s worth, I worked at a gas station in my teens and was often alone. We only had two people there during mealtimes. Small town on major highway. My first job every morning of the weekend was to clean the restrooms of both sexes.

      2. sofar*

        In some cases, it might be related to staffing, rather than COVID. My friend works at a coffee place that gets a LOT of foot traffic. They are short-staffed (ie, fewer than half the people working compared to pre-COVID). Customers as well as transient folks leave those bathrooms in a horrible state. If it’s bad enough, they call a third-party cleaner (which is also understaffed, meaning they might not get there the same day anymore). Or, an on-site staff person has to clean it, meaning they can’t take orders/serve food/clear tables.

        So, management has closed the lobby entirely and gone curbside-only/drive-thru, to avoid having ANY public access to the bathrooms. Guaranteed management at this place cares not one bit about COVID “concerns.” It’s not about sanitizing the bathrooms due to COVID. It’s more that they don’t have the staff to keep the bathrooms remotely clean AND serve food.

        1. Ashley*

          I think this is seen in a lot of places with closed dining rooms. If you only have to keep the drive thru open you need fewer people. The why there are fewer people varied widely, but if I was in a position of working in that type of job I would feel safer working a drive-thru closed dining room location then open to the public at large with the current surge and the growing apathy around COVID. We have to remember people are still dying and our medical facilities are still over run so this is a far cry from over or normal.

        2. PT*

          I recall there being a news article a few years ago that one of the most numerous worker’s comp claims against Starbucks was needle stick injuries while cleaning the restroom.

          I had a coworker get a needlestick injury thanks to our Facilities manager installing the Sharps container incorrectly (we had a lot of T1 Diabetic patrons.) It is something like a 90 day course of 6 medications with nasty side effects and repeated HIV/Hepatitis tests over a period of years. It’s very unpleasant and time consuming.

    2. Whale I Never*

      This was one of my first thoughts, too. And I’m a little confused as to how LW is linking bathroom access to the labor shortage? I recall reading an article a few years ago about gig workers and the disappearance of public bathrooms, and iirc companies were largely blaming homeless people & drug users for making cleaning overly burdensome, not employees. (Which I’m not saying I agree with, just that it was their stated reasoning.) I know where I am, a lot of places also shut down their bathrooms becuse of COVID. LW even notes there were employees at one of the places she tried to stop, although they wouldn’t let her in, so it’s not just that there’s a physical absence of workers.

      My read on the situation is–bathrooms & open rest areas don’t make money for companies. They cost money in the form of employee time when they need to be cleaned, so companies have seized on public health crises excuses to help their bottom line. I would say it’s a PARALLEL to the labor shortage in that companies are passing on an aggravation to the consumer rather than dealing with it properly, but I don’t think it’s a cause and effect issue.

      1. mli25*

        We encountered in an interesting (but related) situation in SC. The McD’s/gas station: the gas station side/convenience store was 100% open. The bathrooms were open (thank goodness), but McD’s was 100% drive thru. It felt more like COVID than labor shortages were the reason. We waited a few minutes in the drive thru, it didn’t move, so we did. And found the same thing at other places in town. Ended up at Sonic, which is completely drive thru and even ate outside at a table. *Shrug*

      2. ThatGirl*

        Anecdotally I’m kind of fascinated by this — around Christmas we drove from Chicagoland south and west to Kansas City, so across Illinois and Missouri. We stopped several times both ways for food and gas and potty breaks, and I never saw anywhere that was closed. We did have a hard time getting food in Hannibal, Mo, but that’s because the line at the Sonic was really long. Even there I could use the bathroom.

        Obviously this is likely to vary depending on the part of the country you’re in, but even so.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I think it depends on (1) area of the country, (2) time of travel, and (3) which roads you’re traveling on. Certain states have more restrictions (and some closed their state-run rest stops at the beginning of the pandemic IIRC). Traveling spring 2020 vs. summer 2021 vs. now (the height of omicron) are all different experiences. And interstates vs U.S. routes vs state roads could have different levels of open/available services.

        2. Blackcat*

          Things are really different now than even two weeks ago! Lots more people out with COVID, therefore leaving places with insufficient staff to operate.

          That’s what exponential growth of infections will do.

          1. ThatGirl*

            That’s true, but it often takes a few weeks for Alison to post letters after they’re received, so it’s hard to say when exactly the LW’s trip took place. Anyway, it is purely anecdotal on my part, just interesting to compare.

      3. bamcheeks*

        There’s also a question here about relying on private businesses to provide a public good like toilets. Maybe the market isn’t the best solution for something that contributes to safety, comfort and access!

    3. Texan In Exile*

      No Place to Go: Answering the Call of Nature in the Urban Jungle, by Lezlie Lowe, talks about this issue. In the beginning, there weren’t even public toilets for women at all – we were supposed to stay home.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I read another book that discussed this issue somewhat, I think it was called “Dirty Old London.” If I recall what I read correctly, part of the reason for resistance to public restrooms for women was that people claimed that women would be just too modest to use such a thing. They’d be embarrassed to be seen entering or exiting one! Or worse, ::gasp:: having to ask where it was! Horrors! Because bladder infections and worse were apparently somehow preferable??

        1. Anon Supervisor*

          Apropos of nothing, when my parents were dating, my mom would never excuse herself to go to the restroom on dates with my dad. For some reason, in late-60’s it was bad manners to reveal that you did, indeed, urinate.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            She wouldn’t go “powder her nose”? I thought that was the accepted euphemism at the time.

            1. Anon Supervisor*

              Lol, nope. She would not admit to my dad that she even knew what a bathroom was. Admittedly, this is probably just my mom’s anxiety level, but it’s a funny story I love about my parents when they were teens.

    4. theycallmemimi*

      I have a friend who works in child protective services. She has trouble finding bathrooms to use too.

      1. doreen*

        I did that job when it was even harder to find a public restroom in my area than it is now. Thank god for firehouses and libraries.

    5. anonymouse*

      100%. I work in a restaurant and I was shocked to learn that there are restaurants that don’t let delivery people use their restrooms. It makes absolutely no sense to me on multiple levels, primarily human decency, but also because delivery drivers are in a sense providing a service to the restaurant. We get a lot of delivery orders due to COVID and it helped keep the restaurant afloat. We let anyone use the bathroom, including homeless people and non-customers – I don’t even think this is an official policy, I am just lucky to work somewhere where we see allowing homeless people and non-customers to use the bathroom as human decency. I do understand why some restaurants are stricter about people using their restrooms (especially during COVID) but I think that fellow restaurant workers should be kind when informing people that their bathroom is for customers only. That being said, restaurants should never ever deny food delivery drivers the ability to use the bathroom when they pick up orders. That is uncalled for.

      1. Starbuck*

        Some states (NY and CA think) are working on passing laws requiring these businesses to allow delivery drivers to use their bathrooms.

        On the one hand, good – they’ve got to go somewhere. On the other hand…. we should be funding public bathrooms, not pushing that cost off onto businesses to handle all on their own! Ugh.

    6. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      YES!! My partner was doing delivery for a high-end grocery chain before and all through the first lockdown (thankfully, not now), and he had to wear a diaper. There was no time for him to have a break before the pandemic, and no place during.

    7. Insert Clever Name Here*

      A thing I learned a few years ago through the AAM commentariat is to always, always, always proactively offer someone doing work in your house (cable tech, electrician, etc.) the use of the bathroom and tell them they’re welcome to plug their phone in to charge if they’d like since many companies have policies against the service provider asking the homeowner for those things.

      1. Long Time Reader*

        Wow- thanks for reposting this, no I’ve learned it from the commentariat too. The phone thing hadn’t occurred to me

      2. Pool Lounger*

        I’ve been wondering about this—I say this every time I have plumbers and other maintenance people in my house, and they always respond like I’m weird for saying it—like I’m saying something really obvious. I wonder if the norms are just different where I am.

        1. pancakes*

          I wouldn’t expect them to be visibly surprised either way. People who make home visits have encountered all sorts of stuff. I know I did the summer I was a canvasser.

      3. Jean (just Jean)*

        Thank you for this information, and for boosting my (already high) opinion of the collective wisdom of the AAM commentariat.

      4. Loredena Frisealach*

        Oh, that’s useful to know! I often have had service folk ask to use the restroom and I don’t have any issue with it — but I didn’t know that some companies tell them not to ask!

      5. Anon Supervisor*

        Yeah, I used to date a guy who worked for a Tree Service and it was a big no-no to ask the homeowner to use their bathroom. He said a lot of guys (who were dirt bags) would pee in the homeowners bushes instead of using the company truck to drive down to the gas station. One guy got fired for crapping in the hedges.

    8. Librarian of SHIELD*

      See also: elementary school teachers. If you’re the only adult in a room with 30 first graders, the only chance you have to use the bathroom is the 15-20 minutes between getting them through the cafeteria line and picking them up from lunch recess.

    9. t*

      I had a job as a bike messenger and this was an issue. I learned in my city where I could find public places to go, but it took time.

      I’ll also add that as a black man I’ve been afraid for my whole life to try to use a bathroom in a business I have not spent money in.

      Though as a man I can pee standing up outside so that makes life tolerable.

    10. phlask*

      I remember this from the first episode of Undercover Boss. The CEO found out that a driver on a route was too busy to go to a bathroom even if she was able to find one, and instead had a special pee can in the truck. To his credit, he was actually in tears to realize he ran a company that forced its workers to pee in cans. I think this was the same CEO that got fired for not picking up trash fast enough.

    11. Agile Phalanges*

      We’ve become known as a place that will let delivery drivers use our (clean) bathrooms. First it was the FedEx driver, and now I’ve noticed the UPS driver does it too. As long as they leave it as clean as they found it, they’re more than welcome. My last job, too, we had truck drivers in and out and they were SO thankful that they could take care of that (and dump a modest amount of trash in our dumpster) without having to make an extra stop.

    12. alienor*

      Delivery and repair people definitely don’t. I moved a few months ago, and every person who entered my new apartment, from the movers to the cable installer, asked if they could use the bathroom. By the time we got to the guy who was assembling our new furniture, I just showed him the bathroom on the way in and told him he could just use it–no need to come find me and ask.

    13. licorice*

      I remember reading an article about this a few months ago, detailing how many Amazon Prime drivers have to pee in bottles.

      1. cheeky*

        The answer is still the same. It’s not the workers, so don’t waste energy being annoyed with them.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Hating the player rather than the game is like yelling at a customer service rep because you were on hold a long time before getting through to a human being. Yes, your frustration is natural. No, yelling at the rep won’t improve the system. They already know it sucks. Their boss knows it sucks. Their boss’s boss knows it sucks. The people actually in charge know it sucks. They have made a conscious decision to have a sucky, but cheaper, system. Yelling at the rep may make you feel better, but that rep isn’t the right person to yell at. At that point this just makes you the sort of person who makes themselves feel better by yelling at innocent bystanders.

          “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” quite nicely sums this up. The Romans had an even pithier expression: “Qui bono?” Who benefits? If you want to know who to yell at, or at least about, look for who is benefiting from the situation. For those of us of a certain age, the modernish equivalent was “Follow the money.”

          1. JM60*

            In fact, yelling at the call center employee because you were waiting forever is likely to discourage people from staying in those jobs, or getting them in the first place, likely leading to longer wait times. If we want better service, we collectively should treat the employees better in turn.

      1. Anon Supervisor*

        Yeah, careful about complaining to owners…sometimes they take it out on the employees.

  4. bluephone*

    It’s okay to feel your feelings, LW. I’m like you–I refuse to feel sad for like, a Ralph Lauren store that they’re closing at 7 PM instead of 9 PM because “no one wants to work boo hoo for us.” But it’s human to rush into CVS for band-aids and then get stuck with the god-awful self-checkout machines because they don’t have enough staff to man the registers or whatever, and be annoyed by that. Anyway, I think you should cut yourself some slack about being frustrated.

    1. Clorinda*

      Sure, that’s annoying. Just direct your annoyance appropriately: at CVS, not at the $8 per hour high school senior who decided that her future will be better served by staying home to get her classwork done.
      Also, I am responding to the example with an example–if CVS actually pays $20/hour and is a great place to work, that’s awesome, but Bluephone’s and my points still stand.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Also I found the CVS self-checkout to be a ball of chaos before the pandemic, too. Not that the staff aren’t usually lovely and helpful, but there were never enough of them before the pandemic. So the current situation certainly isn’t helping, but … I dunno that it’s the reason it’s a mess.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        This is it exactly. Instead of turning on our fellow wage earners, we should blame the people who are in power, the ones who don’t want to pay a wage, who don’t want to treat people right. It’s hard. The cashier has a face, the company doesn’t. “Effing CVS, always makes me wait.” And yet, when I think of CVS, I picture the cashier, not the CEO.

      3. Tupac Coachella*

        My daughter was one of those high school seniors-not CVS, but basically that exact story otherwise. She was in school 5 days a week, working every weekend, and working almost every day during her breaks. Her job is very understaffed for weekends now. Sorry not sorry, my kid’s ability to function was suffering for various reasons when she was committed 7 days a week. Their labor struggles are not her problem or her fault. I’m just sad that others don’t have that choice and are still working in terrible conditions for minimum wage. We’re fortunate enough that she was working for pocket money, not to support herself or the family, so she wasn’t stuck trying to decide IF she could quit, only if she WANTED to quit.

      4. Erika*

        They definitely are not. I worked for them not too long ago when I was in college, and they definitely do not treat workers well. The CEO/avg worker pay gap for CVS is the worst in the retail industry.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          In 2014-2015, that was the case.
          It’s now The Gap.

          Link from Forbes to follow, will be in moderation.

    2. PT*

      I get more annoyed at CVS’s poor treatment of their pharmacy staff. I read the New York Times article in 2019 about how they abuse their pharmacy staff, making them do three things at once during 12 hour shifts with no bathroom breaks. So I completely understand why their pharmacy is a disorganized disaster. I wouldn’t work there. It is 100% CVS’s fault for not scheduling enough employees. But it is downright scary to be there picking up a prescription and the transaction is rocky. I am super paranoid about double-checking all of the pills and billing now.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I went to a CVS for my booster back in November, and I felt really bad – they had a pharmacist and two techs, the techs were trying to take their breaks, they had drive-through customers, walk-up prescriptions AND vaccines to sort through, it was a lot. Oh, and the phone kept ringing!

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I had to reschedule my booster because the pharmacist on shift rage-quit CVS that morning and walked out. I don’t blame the pharmacist. I blame the company and the customers who made the job so miserable that this woman just walked.

          1. the cat's ass*

            There’s a lot of this in health care right now. Crap wages, pressure from management to do more with less, customers/patients refusing to mask, complaints about things taking too long, and for many of us the day to day fear FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS that despite assiduous cleaning, distancing, masking, getting vaxxed/boosted, we’re going to get it. For many colleagues, it’s time to bail/look for a job with better$/retire/take some time off to recover, etc. I had to call a pharmacist yesterday about a prescription for a shared patient and she started crying on the phone (the pharmacist) because she’s the only one there till lunch. It’s not great out there for anyone, folks, let’s try to be kind and safe. I’d rather be inconvenienced than dead. Sorry if that’s a bit off topic.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I know!! I don’t know how people in healthcare have survived these conditions for this long and would not be surprised to see a mass walk-out in the next year. Folks can’t operate under this kind of stress forever

            2. TheUnknown1*

              There are so many parallels here to teaching, too. We are worn so thin from all of these issues – just in a different setting. Solidary to my healthcare brethren.

        2. Blackcat*

          Yep, it was a similar scene where I got my booster in November. When the pharmacist gave me my shot, he said “I am sorry for the wait. We are very busy and my staff is tired. But I am grateful to be doing God’s work.”

          Even as a non-religious person, that was very touching. I do wonder how even those deeply committed to their healthcare work are doing now. The conditions basically guarantee burnout :(

          1. licorice*

            My cousin is a nurse; she’s wanted to be a nurse her entire life, and finally achieved it after attending college part-time as a single mom while working full-time. So very dedicated and committed.

            She’s pinballed back and forth. In the beginning of the pandemic, she worked in an ICU, and she was the one who originally warned me that COVID was much more serious than people were taking it at the time. She seemed kind of shell-shocked and got burned out pretty quickly, and the onset of the pandemic actually led to her switching jobs, working at a fertility clinic instead. But now she wants to go back to the hospital – for a variety of reasons, but one is that the pay is crazy high right now in the hospitals.

            She’s also a person who likes to stay busy and likes the higher activity of being in a hospital than the clinic; she wants to feel like she’s really helping people who are sick or injured and need care. But I do wonder how long she’ll stay. (She’s also not trying to go back into ICU work, though.)

        3. Le Sigh*

          When the vax was first out, my parents were in a high-risk category and were able to get an appt very early on. She told me the whole thing was so disorganized and it was clear the poor pharmacists were way understaffed — they were having to do admin work, administer the shot, and handle normal prescriptions. It was clear CVS hadn’t sent any sort of real support to help these poor techs manage the influx.

          1. t*

            The whole US economy – from health care to teachers to retails to restaurants to trucking and more – runs too lean, with not enough slack to cover problems. We’re in a crisis of epic proportions, so I’m not sure it would make sense for everything to be staffed at levels that could completely mitigate this crisis, but we certainly should have more labor built in to many many jobs.

            1. Le Sigh*

              Yeah, I feel like vaccine distribution is exactly the place where we should have increased staffing. My mom waited over an hour past her appt time and got the feeling the staff had been given very little guidance other than “these are the appts with a bunch of disorganized and missing info, here are the doses, it’s a lot of extra work with no extra help good luck!” At the very least, having someone who could have handled intake and paperwork and kept things organized while the pharmacists handled the shots and prescriptions would have gone a long way.

      2. Massive Dynamic*

        We had one beloved pharmacist at our CVS and this poor man has been run RAGGED the past couple of months. He was the only pharmacist in the store and he finally quit last week. Someone still had the gall to vent on our town facebook page about lazy people not keeping their commitments blah blah.

      3. KayDeeAye*

        My local CVS just started closing the pharmacy for a lunch hour (1-2, I think). Good for them, I say. Of course it’s mildly inconvenient for some customers, but if they don’t have enough pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to man checkout throughout the day without a break, closing sounds very sensible and practical to me.

        1. Salamander*

          Mine closes for a half-hour for lunch, now. I am so glad that they are getting that break, and I told them so when the policy changed. Customers are still awfully ranty about it, and they need to dial back that entitlement waaaaay back.

      4. WellRed*

        That article was horrifying. Pharmacists are being required to do too much and even without Covid, I think cvs understaffed.

      5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Wanted to add to the kudos for CVS employees. They always make sure I’m getting all my member discounts. There was one person who didn’t. I’d spoken up and asked for my discounts so I was fine with it. But she doesn’t seem to work the afternoon/rush hour shift any more. The folks there now are pros.

      6. Miss Betty*

        At our CVS the pharmacists and pharmacist assistants are also the cashiers up front. They had to start closing the pharmacy 3 hours before the store closed and the pharmacy is also closed Sundays because the pharmacists are so overworked. At least they’ve started closing for 30 minutes during they day so they can eat lunch. (/ sarcasm -why’d it take so long to realize the pharmacists need to eat?)

        1. licorice*

          That is, if you have a local pharmacy – if they haven’t been driven out of business by the retail chains. I used to use a local pharmacy when I lived in a different city, but in my current location there are no non-retail/chain pharmacies.

      7. laser99*

        I used to work for CVS and can 100% confirm the staffing was kept intentionally low pre-COVID . The idea was to “save money” on payroll. I put that in quotes bc we lost more business from customers getting disgusted and shopping elsewhere bc no one was on hand to assist them. Not to mention the rampant theft.

    3. Velocipastor*

      This letter is very timely for me as I just had a grocery pick-up order get delayed over 24 hours without warning due to lack of staff and a surge in orders due to bad weather and a big storewide sale. Was I frustrated? Of course! But nothing in the order was life or death and I live a mile from the store. I felt my feelings privately and if I’m asked to rate my experience I will publicly sing the praises of the calm, level-headed employee who was single-handedly answering the phones, picking the orders, and bringing them out to cars in single-digit temperatures.

      1. Wandering*

        Please call the store & tell the manager how much you appreciate that staffer. Few people bother, so it makes a difference.

    4. anonymouse*

      During the pandemic, drugstore workers have had particular struggles. At the beginning of the pandemic, drugstore and grocery store workers were lauded for being essential workers putting themselves at risk to do their jobs for very low pay. If you’re frustrated, I encourage you to put yourself in their shoes- they are burnt out and their employers for the most part did not compensate them fairly despite the fact that pre-vaccine, their lives were at risk. Many people refuse to wear masks in stores let alone get vaccinated, so it makes sense to limit people checking out from the counter where they will be a foot away from the cashier.

      1. Kal*

        My partner works for a grocery chain that at the start of the pandemic announced a hero pay increase to all front like worker’s wages. Of course you had to fit within some strict guidelines to qualify, including working a certain number of hours based on your regular schedule and some extra nonsense, because apparently you don’t risk getting covid until you’ve worked 20 hours in a week and even then only if you normally work those 20 hours?

        They got their PR boost from it and then immediately quietly stopped the pay after 2 weeks. And it wasn’t like it was a huge boost in pay either, especially in the context of the increase in risk of exposure and stress and general overwork that came with the pandemic. The people at the top making those decisions know exactly what they are doing. It becomes a lot easier to redirect frustration and ire away from the frontline workers to the people at the top once you start to notice things like that.

        1. Windchime*

          The exact same thing happened to my son, who also works in grocery. They were all lauded as front-line heroes and given a small (but gratefully accepted) pay boost that was then cancelled after a few weeks. People are still bitching about wearing masks; one customer came in wearing a pair of men’s underwear on his head in lieu of a mask. Employees are dropping like flies from Covid (one employee even died of it) and yet they are still being paid a non-living wage and getting yelled at by customers. It’s a thankless job, but we’d be in big, big trouble if all the grocery workers got fed up and quit.

          1. Bob-White of the Glen*

            For a short time. And we’d all suffer. But maybe then the job would start paying better and employees would be appreciated.

            I hope one of the news shows – 60 minutes, etc. – does an expose on the companies that got a bit PR boost from “hazard pay” and quietly rescinded it shortly after. Some public shaming is definitely in order.

    5. MsClaw*

      Yeah, our big grocery chain is about to have its staff go on strike and I think the next couple weeks are going to be *painful* in terms of getting food. And picking up from your favorite local Thai/Indian/burger/etc place is harder too because a lot of them don’t have enough workers either. It’s tough as a consumer, but I’m extremely sympathetic when the company is just coming off a record-breaking year but doesn’t want to pay the cashiers a decent way.

      Being frustrated is fine. Just don’t take it out on the dude restocking the chips.

    6. Claire*

      I’ve had vaccine appointments (flu and Covid booster) get cancelled because of staff shortages and it definitely has me raging at CVS to pay their workers more/hire more people.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I got my vaccine shots through the county department of health. This was a good call. They have done yeoman duty. They have some structural advantages. They can take over public spaces like senior center or fire hall, and they can get outside support. One of my shots was administered by a National Guard paramedic. I may have just gotten lucky with a well run department of health, but I have been impressed by their professionalism and efficiency.

        1. Claire*

          Our county health department unfortunately doesn’t offer flu shots and only does Covid vaccine clinics during standard work hours on weekdays.

        2. Anon Supervisor*

          I’m in Minneapolis and the National Guard administered vaccines here. My husband when to one of their locations and he said it was slicker than snot. If there’s one thing the military does well is logistics.

      2. covidpharm*

        I work across both our public (state run) COVID vaccine clinics, and also our privately run clinics (mostly community pharmacies).

        Privately run complain that state run have taken too many staff. State run complain that privately run have taken too many staff.

        What we are starting to find is that there just aren’t any more trained people available. And, our burned out pharmacy teams, on both side of the fence, do not have the capacity to train more people at this stage. They all know they should, they all wish they could, but they are already short staffed, overworked and exhausted and have been operating in the “it’s faster if I do it myself” loop.

    7. Chirpy*

      My brother worked at a pharmacy at the start of Covid, and while he never officially got tested because it was like February 2020, he’s pretty sure he got it from *the very first people in the area known to have it* because one person from out of state went to a wedding and infected others…and his was the closest pharmacy to the venue. Guess where people shop when they’re feeling sick….and guess how little people care about risking exposing retail workers to serious illness….

  5. Antilles*

    Companies aren’t having trouble hiring. They’re having trouble hiring at the salaries they’re willing to pay.

    1. Nea*

      This. It’s a worker’s market; give labor what it wants regarding pay, benefits, etc. or don’t find anyone willing to labor for you.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        The recent 60 Minutes story on this was noticeably missing any real talk about wages. Several employers were interviewed, including a restaurant owner, all talking about how hard it is to find people. There was much talk about working from home and flexibility, but I was *dying* to know what the restaurant owner was paying wait staff. This is a demanding job, now with the added danger of Covid and having to have frequent fights about masks with customers–for what, $6 an hour, plus whatever tips the person who just screamed at you about having to wear a mask pays?

        Flexibility and perks are nice, but people work in order to get paid, this is the primary thing employers are going to have to address if they want these positions filled.

        The pandemic has done more for the fight to raise wages than any union organizer or politician ever could.

        1. Artemesia*

          The thing that freed the serfs in Western Europe and created a more prosperous working and middle class was the Black Death. When half of your population dies, opportunity opens up and workers don’t have to agree to be chattel anymore. We are getting a tiny whiff of this with COVID. Women are trapped at home with kids as schools are unreliable and day care always difficult to find now almost impossible to find and of course simultaneously making it hard for workers to immigrate doesn’t help. I often wonder who raging right wingers think is going to be wiping their butts when they are old and disabled and need care.

        2. DataGirl*

          minimum wage in the US for tipped staff is about $3/hr. It was $2.70 until recently. Restaurants will advertise a much higher hourly wage to make it look like they pay well, but when you interview you find out they are calculating presumed tips into that number.

          1. OyHiOh*

            Some states do have higher tipped minimum wages (CO is about $9/hr minimum for tipped employees) but the federal minimum is horrifyingly low

          2. Anon Supervisor*

            In MN it’s the same as the federal minimum wage and some restaurants pay more. I know many in the industry that honestly make more in tips than their wage (especially in the Twin Cities). What they really want is paid time off and medical benefits.

    2. Texan In Exile*

      Them: But if we pay enough to attract people working here legally to pick lettuce and strawberries, a salad will cost $500!

      Me: And?

      (Like I am supposed to be happy to support the exploitation of labor just so I can have cheap produce?)

      1. OyHiOh*

        The post-WWII US economy is founded precisely on this assumption: That groceries should not cost more than 10 to 15% of a family’s yearly income (and housing shouldn’t cost more than 30% but we’ve long since blown that marker out of the water, gosh thanks capitalism!). In trying to eliminate diseases of malnutrition across the US population, we made a bargain for cheap food on the back of exploitation.

        It’s a hard one for me because I get why a federal government would determine that malnutrition isn’t good for the long term health and stability of a country, let’s do something about it but I can’t value the fact that this means under paid and overworked vulnerable people in our society have to work for poor wages in horrific conditions to make it so.

        1. emmelemm*

          Yeah, we’ve made food so artificially cheap that we can never dig our way out of this hole of people’s expectations. Imagine the corners that have to be cut to bring you a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s for $3.00 or whatever. The workers all up and down the supply chain of that get paid pennies, and the factory farming is terrible for everyone (not least of all the chickens).

          1. C.*

            In addition to worker’s rights, I would also add that the amount of abject cruelty capitalism exerts on animals brought up in factory farms to get that $3 chicken sandwich at the drive-thru is, in a word, stunning.

      2. Brooklyn*

        That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to tell you that “workers” (but obviously not you, you’re a good guy) are demanding unreasonable things and this will hurt you directly because poor Company (ticker symbol CPNY, net profits $312 million last year) will have no choice but to raise prices.

        People getting mad about burger flippers getting paid enough to not be homeless are like the people getting mad at gas prices.
        1. Gas prices have been low because the negative externalities (climate change, fracking, destabilization of the Middle East) have been forcefully and sometimes violently pushed on people who can’t stand up for themselves.
        2. If you’re spending enough on gas for this to be meaningful, you drive too much. You should be mad at the lack of good employment opportunities closer by, infrequent and unmaintained public transit, and a societal inability to properly transition off of fossil fuels.
        3. If gas stays cheap, the only thing that will make us stop using it is the roads getting flooded by the rising seas.

    3. Loulou*

      I don’t really understand the premise of this question — maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think what OP describes is mainly caused by a hiring shortage, but by the omicron wave? That’s how it is where I am. Everyone is sick and that’s why things are closed. You can be relatively fully staffed but when that whole staff is out sick it doesn’t matter.

      Definitely agree with your point about wages, I just see the issue now as being more logistical. Maybe it’s regional.

      1. LKW*

        It’s a combination of factors. While Omicron is keeping people at home, the labor shortages we’re seeing are not because there aren’t workers. It’s because workers are fed up being in unsafe conditions, being abused by customers and not making a living wage. While companies are recording record profits, have taken millions in PPP loans they are simultaneously shrugging to their employees saying “I can’t give you a living wage and benefits because then my profits won’t be as big.”

        If companies pay their workers more, they will have fewer gaps in staffing.

        1. Loulou*

          I guess I should have been clearer — where I am, if something is closed unexpectedly or service is limited right now it’s because the staff has covid, not because they’ve quit and haven’t been replaced.

          1. Properlike*

            And it is probably why the restrooms aren’t open to the outside: impossible to contact trace. Could be a health dept. mandate. OR employees not wanting to get infected by customers?

        2. Littorally*

          Yep.

          Repeated reviews of the numbers have shown that the “great resignation” impacts are occurring at the bottom of the wage scale. Move up from the basement no-one-can-live-on-this wages, and the labor shortage vanishes.

        3. Avril Ludgateau*

          If companies pay their workers more, they will have fewer gaps in staffing.

          Going a step further, if companies weren’t so stingy with staffing in the first place, always hiring fewer people than were actually needed to get the job done such that existing staff often did 1.5 jobs or more, they’d be better equipped to weather resignations. When you insist on a skeleton staff, you knowingly risk losing the backbone of your business.

      2. JimmyJab*

        There are parts of the country where places are closed because they can’t hire enough workers to cover shifts, so she is probably referring to that, which is only exacerbated by Omicron. Some folks say the lack of workers is because workers are “lazy” and don’t want to work, where reality is that working where you get abused all day and possibly get sick and die, or pass on to a family member isn’t worth the terrible pay and “benefits.”

      3. Antilles*

        I think it’s clearer if you separating out the issues in OP’s post a little more.

        -If you can’t find a bathroom near the highway during a road trip? McDonald’s being open for pick-up only?
        Yes, that in particular is primarily due to the Omicron wave – employees themselves being sick, corporate mandates, or perhaps state/local rules.

        -The overall staffing shortage? OP’s vendors being late on deliveries? OP’s clients lacking the staff to get OP required information? People resigning from companies and being unwilling to “suck it up and get back to work”?
        These issues aren’t about Omicron, but the companies in question. Every single one of these issues has existed since the fall before we’d heard of Omicron and they’re likely to still exist a few months from now when the biggest wave of Omicron has passed through.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        It’s both. Some places are closed or partially closed because too many workers are out sick with omicron or isolating due to exposure. Some places are closed or partially closed because too many positions are open because the place treats workers like crap and/or pays them crap so no one wants those jobs. Some places it’s a little of both.

    4. KSyrup*

      My company keeps complaining about how hard it is to hire people *because McDonalds is paying the same wage and we’re asking for advanced degrees.* And they’re mad at McDonalds. It’s mind boggling.

    5. Shan*

      Yes… one that keeps irritating me is the baggage handlers at airports (at least, here in Canada). Obviously right now things are extra bad with Omicron taking everyone out, but during the fall our numbers were low and it was still taking a million years for the luggage to get to the carousal. They’d make repeated announcements thanking everyone for their patience and lamenting how there’s a shortage of workers and the crew they have is working really hard to get your bags to you, like it was some Totally Unavoidable Situation, and won’t you pity the poor airlines?? Pretty sure that poor crew wouldn’t have to be busting their ass if the powers that be would just pay enough to attract more workers.

    6. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Employers are also getting in their own way with their rules and policies. They’ll whine and cry that there are no qualified applicants, but refuse to even consider anyone without a college degree, with a past criminal record, or who doesn’t have 100% of some purple-unicorn wishlist of qualifications.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        This as well. People who can do the job perfectly well but… “They have a gap in their employment, and I don’t like that!” or “They only completed some community college. Next!” or “They refuse to sign over their first born child, and that’s just not loyalty.”

    7. NoviceManagerGuy*

      So far this month I’ve had two new grads decide not to start with us after signing an offer, because they got work they decided they’d like better. I offered more money, that wasn’t the issue.

    8. ByTheBay*

      Yeah there’s an interesting undercurrent, even in the way this question was written (the reference to people saying people need to “get back to work”) — that there are Certain People who belong in Certain Jobs, and if they’re not there it’s the fault of those people. I like that Alison’s answer picks up on that. It’s a heavy and classist assumption that a thinning out of lower-ranking jobs is somehow a failing of people who are themselves inherently lower-ranking. A lot of people assume that someone must be out there somewhere just like, sitting around and refusing to do what they’re supposed to do. As a person who was very recently in a very low ranking job: a lot of us got better opportunities! My boss was annoyed that I was leaving, but he also didn’t want to pay me enough that I could afford the company health insurance. Now I’m making three times as much money. I don’t know anyone right now who’s still at home collecting unemployment; we’re just doing better for ourselves.

      1. WS*

        Yes indeed, plus in the US a lot of people who did those lowest-ranking jobs (with highest exposure, lowest protection and no health cover) are just plain dead. You can’t make someone new take that job without some kind of incentive.

        1. Kal*

          Dead or disabled such that they can no longer do the job . And given how physical and demanding almost all low-ranking jobs are, its not hard for the combination of the exposure to covid and other illnesses, exposure to potentially violent customers, the overexertion on the job and the lack of health care to take care of issues early (and even in places like Canada where you have access to a doctor – its not easy to take time off to see the doctor) to lead to a large number of workers to no longer be able to do the job.

          No one should be expected to take on those risks for other people’s convenience, even if they were being paid well – and we all know those jobs aren’t paid well.

      2. Tali*

        Yep, great point. A lot of these complaints are about the character of the Certain People who belong in Certain Jobs, as if society is owed their servitude. It’s the silent part we’re not supposed to say out loud.

  6. Crackerjack*

    Something I’ve been thinking of a lot lately while trying to dredge up the will to keep going is that bit in Lord of the Rings when Frodo says the equivalent of: ‘I wish it had never come to this!’ and Gandalf answers ‘So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.’

    We are living in Interesting Times (to mix my book references). It helps me, a little bit, to put myself in that narrative of a small person, struggling in a world too big for them, with seemingly unsolvable problems and to try to see myself as on the right side. These are the times that are given to us. Hero-ing up in my mind helps me to live through it and hope for better things on the other side.

    1. cubone*

      Adding my favourite relevant LOTR book quote (I think this is in the same part as the more famous “time that has been given to you” but I’m not sure and too lazy to look it up):

      “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”

    2. glitter writer*

      I have had Gandalf in my head almost every day for the last two years, because: yes. That is where we are, and that is all we can do.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Just keep reminding yourself of Samwises quote later on in the movie:
        I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
        Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
        Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

        1. Merci Dee*

          I sob my eyes out every time Sam gives this speech. You can see and hear the utter exhaustion he’s carrying, but also the utter conviction that their mission must be completed. For as long as I live, no matter how many times LOTR is re-vamped, rebooted, or re-tooled, Sean Astin will always be Samwise Gamgee for me, and this speech is why.

        2. Llama face!*

          Well now someone is chopping some extremely potent onions.

          That feels like a very timely quote right now, especially when it feels like so many people lately are just pushing for us to give up. And I’m thinking about multiple areas- COVID, antiracism, gender equality, the environment, economic reform, etc.

          And, bringing it back to the topic of the post, getting us to fight amongst ourselves and resent each other instead of the ones who really hold the power is a classic divide-and-conquer tactic. I think even just being aware of that can help.

      2. Artemesia*

        I post that quote in my facebook feed every few months — it speaks eloquently to our time. I hope we can use this time given to us to improve conditions for working Americans and improve health care, child care and housing. But the distortions in the political system which give much more power to forces that oppose that make this unlikely. I feel like I am in a terrible accident where time is suspended and you experience every moment and yet cannot affect the outcome. Or like I am skydiving and my parachute has failed and I am experiencing the failure second by second.

    3. Quack Quack No*

      Well referenced. I’ve also been keeping that quotation from LOTR in mind, or trying to anyway.

      1. Sloanicote*

        That’s funny, because I keep telling my dog Sam: “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things.” It really does feel as if civilization is crumbling to me.

    4. Blomma*

      I’ve had this quote on my bedroom wall (and now in a place visible while I work from home) since maybe 2016. It’s such a meaningful couple of lines.

    5. Purple Cat*

      There was a similar theme/quote in Wheel of Time Episode 6.
      “I know what it feels to think you want something different than what this life gives you….
      The wheel does not care if you are young or afraid, petty or weak, it certainly doesn’t care what you want, the wheel calls you to this, whether you can bear it or not…”

      1. the cat's ass*

        Yes to all of the above. I interviewed my (long-dead) mom for an oral history project when i was in college about living through WW2. And I remember her saying that it was mostly cold, inconvenient, and boring with stretches of sheer terror, but that we were fighting a terrible evil and had to win, so no stockings, blackout curtains and growing cabbages in the flower garden while praying for your future husband and two brothers to come back from the front was the “small price I paid for living through history.”

        I’ve never forgotten it.

  7. I edit everything*

    I wonder how many of those businesses were closed not because of labor shortages but because of our old friend covid. Lots of things are shutting down again, with the current situation.

    1. tg*

      I was coming here to say that. I help out at a church, which had bathrooms available, but since one of the early symptoms of covid (back in 2020) was diarreah (sp), they were closed. The only way to know they are safe would be to clean them after every use, and no-one was available to do that.

      1. Artemesia*

        I believe businesses have simply taken advantage of COVID in order to not have the burden of maintaining restrooms which is always burdensome.

    2. Myrin*

      I was gonna say! I work at a drugstore and we used to be able to allow customers to use our personnel toilets but since COVID hit, we aren’t allowed to let anyone in there anymore.
      It’s very possible that it was obvious in OP’s case that the bathrooms/lobbies were closed because of labour shortages but if it wasn’t, the virus actually would’ve been my first guess.

    3. Siege*

      It’s been a while since I’ve seen a fast food restaurant in my area (PNW) with an open lobby. There are some the further you get into redder parts of our county, but even pre-omicron, there aren’t any lobbies open I’m aware of in my city if the restaurant has a drive-thru. Made it awkward when I accidentally left my credit card at Jack In The Box – because they didn’t answer their phone, I had to go through the drive-thru. So I’d be surprised if it was staffing closing lobbies. I’m deeply sympathetic to the bathroom issue, but I doubt it’s staffing.

    4. Purple Cat*

      It’s both issues and a bit of a circular references.
      I think bathrooms specifically being closed is due to COVID, but labor shortage is partly due to companies not wanting to pay enough, AND employees being out due to COVID.

    5. Loulou*

      Our friend COVID is causing the labor shortage! In my city right now “staff shortage” = “too much of our staff is sick.”

    6. Wendy Darling*

      Where I live it’s getting to the point that so many people have covid or were exposed to covid and are self-isolating until they can find a test (you basically cannot get a test right now) that things are just collapsing. Even businesses I know pay well and have good benefits are having to close temporarily because so many employees are out due to covid.

    7. Hippo-nony-potomus*

      It’s also an effect of the childcare crisis. Two often-overlooked issues: daycares run on razor-thin margins and any increase in, e.g., staff salaries means a price increase for parents. As a parent, I understand that I’m paying for 1/6th of the classroom teacher’s salary, a fraction of the director’s salary, food, clean-up, and about 1/40th of the lease on the building. There’s no magical source of income that they are keeping squirreled away that can be accessed to pay people more but not charge parents more.

      In the last month and a half, my kid’s daycare has been closed for two weeks. We’re lucky that we kept our spot; when they couldn’t keep staff on, they had to shutter some of the rooms and tell parents to find alternate childcare. Now, with our jobs, we’re able to continue working and provide childcare, at least for a short time, but many parents are in a situation wherein shuttering daycare means they aren’t in work the next day.

      Pay staff more? They are. They pass those price increases on to us, which makes it less affordable for working parents, which means some working parents opt to just stay home with their kids instead. It’s a total cluster.

      1. pancakes*

        With the exception of parents whose incomes put them in the top 5% or so, forty years of wage stagnation data indicates they ought to be paid more as well. Slow wage growth and widening income inequality are not recent trends, but it seems that many people have somehow not noticed these patterns until their own day to day lives became more difficult.

    8. Some dude*

      Yeah. I think we all want COVID to be over, so we are ignoring that this is literally the worst the pandemic has been by a large margin, at least in terms of cases, and we aren’t that far behind in terms of hospitalizations. But we haven’t made any real changes to how we are moving in the world (lockdowns, school closings, sheltering in place) and the government keeps weakly saying, “this is fine,” and so the fact that a huge percentage of the U.S. is sick gets lost. I saw a rant recently on a hobby reddit thread about long shipping times for inessential hobby goods, and it’s like, my man, everyone is either sick, or has a sick kid or spouse, or is in some way impacted by this latest tsunami of cases.

      This is also why staffing hasn’t come back 100%, and likely won’t ever – some of the people doing those jobs are dead, or had a spouse die, or were in some other way impacted by this disease beyond just realizing that service industry jobs are rough. Or they have someone at high risk at home and don’t want to risk bringing home a deadly disease via their low-wage job.

  8. Lab Boss*

    I make no claims that this is anything but my own personal experience: One thing that frustrates me a little is that with “the great resignation” out there in the zeitgeist, there seem to be a lot of people who just kind of assume that they have 100% of the power in the job market now. That leads to some things like a way higher rate of being ghosted by candidates (frustrating since we are meticulous about letting everybody know if they are rejected, and later-round candidates get a personalized rejection and often referred to other positions in the company). Or candidates asking for salaries out of line with industry norms because they understand it to be a worker’s market, and they didn’t do the due diligence to understand what a “reasonable salary” for the job is.

    BUT (and that’s a big but) I think the ongoing changes in the US job market are overall positive. To borrow some phrasing I’ve seen here, they aren’t ghosting on an interview AT ME, they’re doing what they see as the best thing in their job hunt. I try to acknowledge where it ends up annoying or unfair to me, while also recognizing the overall process as a good thing that’s going to help everybody. Try to avoid falling into the twin traps of “this isn’t 100% pleasant so I can’t support it any more” and “I support this so I’m going to pretend there’s nothing unpleasant about it.”

    1. LDN Layabout*

      That leads to some things like a way higher rate of being ghosted by candidates (frustrating since we are meticulous about letting everybody know if they are rejected, and later-round candidates get a personalized rejection and often referred to other positions in the company)

      I mean, this is another situation where the fault lies with the companies who haven’t been acting well vs. the candidates. It’s great that your company does things right, but the vast majority of places doesn’t and jobseekers have been taught by the market that this is an acceptable way to act. That’s it.

      1. Lab Boss*

        I get that a lot of companies pull this nonsense, which is why I hope the turnabout ends up producing a net positive gain by making everyone realize ghosting shouldn’t be acceptable. I don’t think it makes the candidates bad people or anything, but (like the LW) it’s still an element of the ongoing changes that annoys me.

      2. Anon Supervisor*

        It’s annoying to be ghosted no matter if it’s employer or employee and I’m allowed to feel annoyed by it as someone who hires people. I don’t take it personally, it’s just a waste of time. Plus, our hiring software does keep track and it can come back to bite candidates in the rear if they apply again down the line.

    2. Jaybee*

      It’s very interesting that you see those two things as being demonstrative of workers thinking they have ‘100% power’ in the job market. Both of your examples to me just demonstrate applicants who know they have options and aren’t urgently searching for a job.

      1. Lab Boss*

        To me, an applicant no-showing a scheduled interview is just as rude as a company leaving them hanging rather than letting them know they were rejected- it seems to say “we have all the power and don’t care that we’re wasting your time.”

        1. The OTHER Other*

          I agree, but while you and your company may have been diligent in keeping applicants informed, etc many if not most employers have been far less so. For many years. Cattle call interviews for non entry-level jobs, ghosting candidates after interviews (sometimes multiple interviews), not calling back when promised, etc. Not to mention mass layoffs. These are the norms businesses set, over many years: That they will look out for themselves, and employees are really not important. IMO it shouldn’t be surprising that employees do the same when they have the ability to do so.

    3. Emily*

      I get a lot of messages from recruiters, and I’m sure they think what they’re offering me is a reasonable salary and in line with the market, but what they’re offering is generally less than I make currently and significantly less than it would take for me to leave. I’m happy with where I am, I just want to see what’s out there, so I kind of /do/ I have 100% of the power in the job market, in that I do not need anything, and employers apparently really want people with my skill set. Also, as the job seeker, you really just need to find one company that doesn’t think you’re being unreasonable for it to work out.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Very true! My team is primarily entry level and near-entry, so we’re getting applicants with 0-2 years of experience rather than headhunting people with current satisfying positions they would be happy to stay in. It changes the math a little when you are looking for someone with a certain skill set vs someone who will have to pick up most of those skills on the job.

    4. BPT*

      “Or candidates asking for salaries out of line with industry norms because they understand it to be a worker’s market, and they didn’t do the due diligence to understand what a “reasonable salary” for the job is.”

      I mean, I think this is the job market working appropriately, to be honest. You are finding your preferred candidate, and they are telling you the rate it would take for them to work for you. It doesn’t matter if that is out of the average range for this job – they are telling you what their work costs. You are of course welcome to not pay that, but the way that industry norms change is precisely because people decide that their labor is worth more, and decide to ask for it. And one way to ensure a lot of time isn’t wasted is to state salary up front in the job ad or first interview, and make sure you’re on the same page. (If a candidate agrees to a range in the first interview and then springs a much higher salary requirement at the job offer stage without a compelling reason, that’s a different case, but I don’t think that’s very common.)

      1. Lab Boss*

        Very true! The part that frustrates me is knowing that it’s vanishingly unlikely that they’ll get the salary they’re asking for- but they’ll turn down the job with me and end up settling for the same salary somewhere else, and I’ll have lost them. I don’t mean to sound like I’m blaming them for going big, it’s just a general frustration when they get a mistaken idea of how big they can go and it ends up costing me a promising candidate. I do always hope things work out for them though! If they can get what they’re looking for, that’s awesome!

        1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

          But a job is more than the actual work, and compensation is more than actual salary. They told you what amount they would be willing to work for you. Just because they got the same salary elsewhere doesn’t mean all things were equal.

        2. FridayFriyay*

          That’s what my employer assumed too. They were… very wrong. I got exactly what I was aiming for.

        3. Sacred Ground*

          It could also be that, rather than settling for similar pay at another similar employer, they’re instead choosing some other entry level job in another industry entirely. So it’s not just your org losing a promising candidate, it’s your profession.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Preaching to the choir on that one :) I’ve been asking us to do that for years, we’re sloooowly coming around to the fact that it’s probably going to become such an industry standard it won’t be optional to state salary bands up front.

        2. Threeve*

          I just saw a job posting with a huge salary range (something like 40k to 120k) and a note that said “most new candidates are not hired at the top of the salary range.” Like…way to defeat the purpose, guys.

          1. Lab Boss*

            Proof that “Malicious Compliance” isn’t just a tool for the employee. The additional note really just twists the knife that they KNOW they’re giving a deliberately useless range.

            It’s possible to have a structure where one “job title” just covers a lot of range, but an employer could find ways to still give useful info- like clarifying that the full range accounts for various certifications and responsibilities, and a new hire in the range generally starts at 40K-55K (or whatever).

        3. Ray Gillette*

          Even that’s not necessarily sufficient. Last year I had a candidate decline an offer in the middle of the posted range because he wanted the top of the posted range. Not the end of the world (I ended up hiring another candidate with more experience who was worth the top of the posted range), but it shows that everyone goes into the hiring process with their own expectations.

          1. anonymouse*

            That’s an issue with the job listing though. I think listings should be clear about who qualifies for the top of the range and who doesn’t. I’ve seen a lot of government job listings that do this.

            1. Ray Gillette*

              That’s an interesting idea for sure, but if there’s enough detail in the listing I think it should be easy enough for candidates to estimate where they fall without having it spelled out. If the listing says 1-3 years of experience required and includes lists of both required skills and “nice to haves,” and you have 2 years experience and none of the “nice to haves,” it shouldn’t be a surprise when you don’t qualify for the top of the range.

          2. A Penguin!*

            I don’t think that’s inherently a problem. Your range and his had some overlap, so it made sense for both of you to continue the conversation until it was determined that where you ultimately landed didn’t fall into that overlap range. You are still (presumably) saved from spending time on applicants who you couldn’t have secured even with the very top of your allowance.

            1. Ray Gillette*

              Yeah, it was a minor inconvenience and I’m fine with the way the situation played out. Just raising the point that posting the salary range doesn’t mean there won’t still be mismatches on money or expectations.

          3. Anon Supervisor*

            Hiring at the top of the range can lead to employee frustration down the line with yearly raises. A lot of companies adjust the yearly increase to a smaller percentage if someone’s at the top. Definitely frustrating for someone who’s a top performer with a stellar review and getting a piddly increase. I mean, if you’re only going to stay a couple of years in order to get on a leadership track, go for it, but realize your raises might not reflect what you think is a good raise.

      2. Much Ado*

        Yeah. When I was searching, so many jobs I was looking at had posted pay ranged below what I paid. I was beginning to wonder if I were overpaid and in a golden handcuffs situation (despite making a modest amount). I ended up getting 2 offers, and both of them had to get the salary regraded to match my requirements. Just because they thought their original range was reasonable doesn’t mean that it was.

        And it’s not just a great resignation thing-I would have required that salary no matter what.

    5. That IT Guy*

      In this instance, they don’t necessarily know that your company is the type to actually notify candidates of rejections and are simply taking their examples from loads of other companies that (to this day) still don’t see that as being worth their time. Like you said, it’s not “at you”, but it is kind of “at employers in general”.

    6. Smithy*

      The twin traps are really important to call out.

      I work on a team with a lot of mothers who are amazing professionals and also juggling intensely difficult periods with childcare/schooling. I am thrilled that my job is supporting them take the time they need and placing understandable and achievable goals for our team as a result. It also means that often I am bored, waiting on answers, and strive to find the line to be truly helpful as opposed to trying to poach their work. Not all of my feelings about this are amazing, but it’s trying to honor the feelings my own feelings of frustration while also supporting that we are in a workplace that is supporting these women during a period of time that uniquely demanding on them.

      1. Lab Boss*

        And a nuance that’s easy to miss is that you can be frustrated *with the situation* without being frustrated *at a specific person involved.* I would be frustrated in your shoes too! But not at the company for working with mothers, and not with the mothers for being busy, just with the situation. Sometimes everybody is doing their best and there’s still a situation that kind of sucks, and I think it’s fair to recognize the suckiness without being accused of blaming the people involved.

        1. Smithy*

          The reality of the “twin traps” is that it’s perhaps more like an octopus of traps of all the things it’s possible to be mad or frustrated at without letting it overwhelm you.

          I work in a field that’s predominately women. My current team is 100% women – so in terms of the people I work with, yes no dads. Now, regarding what’s happening in individual homes, that’s a level of meddling into my coworkers lives that I have zero desire to do. But in terms of my industry and this office specifically, it’s been hit hard.

          My frustration on the micro and macro scale is real. But I never want it to be where it impacts my feelings about my employer supporting these women who I respect professionally. Nor do I want it to impact me judging what they do with their spouses and children. Those are roads that I don’t see making me happier and wouldn’t make me a person I’d want to be.

        2. Maggie*

          What is this comment supposed to mean? Childcare is disproportionately falling to women (even more than usual) right now. That is a well documented fact.

          1. Smithy*

            While not necessarily the most constructive of comments – something that is wildly obvious to me but not mentioned in my original comment is that I work in a woman dominated industry. As such, salaries are lower (aka spouse is likely to have a higher salary that in the home is often prioritized) and there are more moms.

            So my frustrations certainly can blossom in 101 ways of why the world sucks, why my current situation sucks, blah blah blah. But ultimately my point was that it’s important to hold onto the systems being flawed, and bad, and needing to change and not being mad at my coworkers or wanting my employer to punish them.

            1. Maggie*

              Sorry – I understood your comment. I was responding to/wondering why anyone would comment ‘no dads’ which seemed really sarcastic and out of touch with workplace realities. (Almost like a #not all men… #poor dads, which is a very frustrating attitude to encounter as a single working mom right now!)

          2. emmers*

            Yeah I am in FULL agreement with you, frustration with working moms seems to miss the bigger picture.

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            My husband is one of those exceptions that prove the rule. It’s very frustrating for us that our teenager goes to him 100% of the time for homework help, but teachers and administrators all write to me first/only. Even after 2 years of me saying “REALLY. He’s the one who considered teaching as a career, not me.”

        3. Overeducated*

          I mean, even if dads are in the picture and equal partners, that still leaves a LOT of childcare and work juggling on both parents. Like, half the time! Doing 20 hours of childcare amidst a 40 hour work week still has an impact. (Ask me how I know….)

      2. InsertNameHere*

        How about we also be frustrated with the men at work who have kids who everyone just assumes their wives are dealing with the kids?!?! Sorry, sore point for me right now. Shocker – I’m a women with kids with a husband in a very traditional employer. Guess who’s figuring it all out. And let’s be honest, he also makes WAY more than me so we can’t really push back a whole lot on this…

    7. Erica*

      If lots of people are asking for salaries that are “out of line with industry norms,” it’s a sign that industry norms need to change. Maybe other similar industries pay more, and you’ll have to increase wages to compete. Especially with significant inflation – everyone now should be making 7% more than the previous “norm” just to stay even.

      1. Curious*

        I really don’t see “industry norms” as a valid concept in a competitive market. The wage an employer needs to pay is the wage it takes to persuade a candidate to accept an offer of employment — set by the market.

  9. Very anon*

    We’re so fed up with our leadership not approving increasing our salary to competitive levels because they think we’re unskilled labor, I’ve now launched operation lure someone from HR into volunteering to help us with our “easy unskilled labor.”

    Hopefully once they break under the immense, stressful, skill require, workload, they’ll run crying back to their department and tell them we’re serious when we say their mental concept of what we do has no basis in reality (they don’t even know what our job description is).

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Please write to Alison if/when you get them to do that because that sounds fascinating!

  10. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

    I think we’ve all experienced this in some way during the past two years or so. Yeah, it kinda sucks for me as a consumer, but I have sympathy and high-five workers who are pushing back and saying no to shitty working conditions. And if that means I have to use a drive-thru and wait in that line because fast food isn’t/can’t staff up enough to have the lobby open, well then, that’s the price I pay as a member of society. If I have to wait longer at a full-service restaurant for staffing issues, well, I’m okay with that because, hopefully, the staff who are working have better wages and working conditions.

    At least in the US, I’ve observed that we’ve gotten so entirely spoiled with me me me/now now now that for us to wait even five minutes for *anything* is just beyond some people. GFT over it, people, and have some sympathy for other working folks. The want it now/get it right this very instant mentality, frankly, needs to change.

    IMO. YMMV.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      I agree with your last point, to be honest.

      There are very few things that need same-day or next-day delivery, for instance (yes we all have emergencies, but Amazon will next-day a pack of T-shirts), and the practice Directly effects both climate change and the terrible conditions Amazon employees work under daily.

      1. FriendlyLocalParkManager*

        Exactly. Our expectation that everything happens instantly and cheaply has major environmental impacts as well as labor issues. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to reevaluate our priorities and expectations as a society.

    2. Danish*

      I also agree with your last point, even as a person who is very enamored of getting things same day. I think it’s really eroded our sense of perspective. I blame Amazon for normalizing everything gotten online with free two day shipping–that’s now the expectation. And it is convenient! I like it too! But also the number of times I’ve searched for a 2 day shipping option and then let a box sit unopened in my house for a week is definitely more than I can count on both hands. It’s just kind of trained into us now, two decades in.

      Yesterday I went to the store for one specific brand and type of cookie. They didn’t have it. I was briefly sad but then just picked another cookie, and had a think about how fascinating it is that I assume I should be able to walk into any given store and find the precise item I want at any time. I am old enough and have lived in rural enough places that I have LIVED EXPERIENCE in that not being how stores work and yet even I have gotten so used to I WANT X AND I WANT IT NOW that I just kind of. Expect it.

  11. Brightwanderer*

    Slightly tangential, but I don’t understand the connection between being short-staffed and LW having to pee in the woods? If it’s their policy that customers can’t use the bathroom how is that related to the labour shortage?

    1. miro*

      I was confused by that as well. I’m wondering if OP is conflating bathroom closures due to Covid with understaffing?

      1. Artemesia*

        I don’t believe that COVID is really the driver here. I think companies are taking advantage of it to not offer a service that brings in no income and is odious to have to maintain. No one wants to clean bathrooms and unfortunately X% of the public who use them are total pigs. I recently had to crouch behind a dumpster in a fairly exposed place because I got stranded for 3 hours with a car breakdown. There was a public restroom right there — locked up tight. I felt gross and indecent doing it — but there were not even bushes. And it was 12 degrees.

        For COVID they just need to do their normal maintenance plus provide sanitizing wipes for customers and make sure soap and water and paper towels are available. CLosing them for COVID is an excuse not a reason.

    2. Lab Boss*

      A lot of places either close their indoor dining areas (fast food) or just their public restrooms (gas stations) because they don’t have enough staff to do all the associated cleaning. It’s not places with a blanket policy, it’s places where you normally could stop that have cut off your access.

      Source: coming thiiiiiis close to having to pee in the woods after 3 failed attempts at a rest stop.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Always carry tissues, wipes, hand sanitizer, and plastic bags.
        Don’t leave tissues, wipes on the ground(that’s what the plastic bag is for). Dig a small hole for poop. Try not to pee/poop near a water source.

        And watch out for poison ivy.

        Peeing outside is an annoyance, but not a Major Thing. Many workers already have to do it.

        1. moql*

          And in a metro area that is 100+ miles wide (like mine)? I camp a lot and am perfectly happy to pee in the woods but telling people to suck it up is not helpful. Also, it has been <35*F for most of the past month.

          1. Esmeralda*

            I’m not telling OP to suck it up. I’m giving tips for how to do it if she has to do it.

            OP’s problem with finding a bathroom is not happening in a metro area, it’s happening out where the metro is not. On the highway where rest stops are closed and fast food places are only drive thru or have locked their toilets.

            Yes, it’s cold. And when it’s dangerously cold, then obviously stay in your car. Otherwise, it’s possible to pee outside in the cold. Even around zero degrees F. It’s not comfortable, but it’s do-able.

        2. Artemesia*

          Finding cover in an urban area is not that easy –had to do that next to a highway and access road with no bushes and miles of concrete and all restroom locked up tight. To find a place that was somewhat shielded from view was VERY difficult. I was lucky a jogger didn’t come by or a car when I finally chose behind a dumpster. It was not very shielded but the only thing that offered any privacy at all. There are no woods many places and even at rest stops on the highway often the woods are fenced off from the lawns/buildings.
          I was stranded for over 3 hours when I had a flat tire and the first aid car could not change it and I then had to wait for a tow truck which took another hour. The locked up restroom was nearby but it didn’t even bushes around it for the desperate.

        3. Littorally*

          That’s great advice for being out in the woods, but relieving yourself outside in urban or suburban areas is a much more major thing – in fact, public urination/defecation is a crime in many jurisdictions.

              1. Esmeralda*

                LOL, don’t know about that, but I’ve certainly annointed a few roadsides over the years. Of course I don’t squat right there on the shoulder of the road in front of my car — pull over where it’s safe to do so, do my biz someplace with shrubbery or boulders or some such to go behind.

                There are a lot of places that don’t have any helpful hidey places…in that case, open both doors on the passenger side, wait for a relatively traffic free moment, and do one’s best.

    3. my roflcopter goes soi soi soi*

      State managed rest stops are closed in my area because mask/vaxhole workers are no longer employed and no one is beating down the doors to apply for ‘shit’ jobs.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      Could be restaurants/gas stations/etc. are closing their bathrooms because they don’t have enough staff to keep them clean.

    5. cubone*

      I think the OP assumes (or knows, if this was made clear at those places) that bathrooms are closed due to a lack of custodial staff to clean them. However, see unthread where many of us would agree that this is just as likely to be a COVID safety measure (where I am, closed bathrooms are absolutely a COVID safety thing, not a labour shortage thing).

      1. Very anon*

        Yeah, bathrooms are often not the most ventilated places (see odors hanging in the air for hours) and could very well be closed for covid safety.

        1. Starbuck*

          I don’t get this – bathrooms seem more likely to have fans built in and running than a lot of other spaces.

      2. misspiggy*

        This is where I get very confused about the US. In the UK, to get a licence to run services on major roads, you have to provide toilets, food and drink. Which means the economy overall works better, as people are able to travel more safely. I’m not sure why this basic-functioning level of regulation seems absent in so many areas of life in the US.

        1. londonedit*

          I know we’re a much smaller country and driving distances are tiny compared to the US but I can’t imagine driving on the motorway and there not being regular service stations with petrol/food/toilets etc. There are so many of them here! Granted, for a while back in September/October there were areas where some of them didn’t have petrol, but usually they’re there and staffed and available, and the major ones are open 24 hours a day. I didn’t drive anywhere during full lockdown but I seem to remember they were still open – I think because HGV drivers count as essential workers and they had to have facilities available to use.

          1. MsSolo (UK)*

            There were a lot of complaints from HGV drivers early in the pandemic that they were being denied access to toilets at petrol stations, because of the perceived infection risk. It was one of the things cited as why a lot of drivers were quitting (as one of many straws breaking the camels back, with so many drivers lost due to Brexit and the additional paperwork).

          2. Elle*

            They were definitely open in full lockdown – my gran died in April 2020, and dad and I drove 400 miles to be there at the end – and you could pee no problem. We had taken flasks and sandwiches because we weren’t sure what we’d find, but the small shops in the petrol stations were open, and you could get machine costa without too much trouble.

            Most of the other vehichles in the services car parks were lorries or other obviously commercial vehichles, with the notable exception of one, possibly Gretna, where there was a large contingent of travellers camped up in the car park – struck me as not a bad shout – pretty quiet, not a lot of folk around, and space for the kids to run about!

          3. Aquawoman*

            For a business to serve food or drink, they have to have a restroom. I think there is either an exception for covid or for strictly-drive through or a combination of the two.

            1. doreen*

              You would be surprised – in NYC only restaurants that opened after 1977 and seat 20 or more people are even required to have public restrooms under non-COVID circumstances. Which mean I don’t expect to find public restrooms at gas stations with convenience stores as is apparently common in much of the US. I haven’t run into a highway rest area without open restrooms – but depending on where I’m going exactly, a three hour drive without encountering a highway rest area is not uncommon . I think there’s one on all of Long Island and none in NYC.

        2. Anononon*

          It’s not absent, it’s just that generally, only the horror stories get told. Other Americans in this thread are saying that they also are finding it unusual/not within their experience to have absolutely no rest stops/restaurants/etc open for a place to pee. The other thing with the US is that because it’s so massive, it’s more likely for these weird bubbles of an unusual situation to pop up.

          1. Lala*

            Yes, exactly. The US has a fantastic highway system (overall far better than Europe) with plenty of facilities. One person’s onetime experience shouldn’t be generalized to the whole country.

          2. pancakes*

            Yeah, I occasionally use I-95 to visit family in New England (from NYC) and this is not something I’ve encountered. Our usual places to stop are still open.

            1. Anononon*

              Yup, both family and I have been up and down 95 between D.C. and Connecticut within the past 6 months or so, and I’ve not seen this.

              Say what (general) you want about America’s public transit/rail systems, but our car culture and interstates are completely different from Europe’s.

        3. cubone*

          I am actually in Canada! I haven’t had the issue with roadside stop places, a lot of major highways around my area have these branded “roadside” stops with a gas station and a big plaza type spot with multiple food options. Those bathrooms have always been open. But the Starbucks on my block has had its bathrooms closed during certain times of COVID restrictions, so yeah, YMMV.

    6. SofiaDeo*

      Counties are no longer allowing rest stop bathrooms to be open, since they are often isolated and aren’t able to be kept clean enough to prevent Covid transmission. The various states don’t have the resources, so they are closed, period.

      1. ThatGirl*

        But covid doesn’t transmit through surfaces 99% of the time. A labor shortage due to covid, I can see, and obviously you want the restroom to be clean for general sanitation purposes. But a not-totally-clean bathroom is not transmitting covid by itself.

        1. pancakes*

          Yes, exactly. Fear of surface-based transmission is a poor excuse. I’m curious whether places that claim to be closing bathrooms for this reason have closed schools and restaurants as well.

      2. Windchime*

        This may be true in some areas of the US, but it’s not true in my area at all (Washington state). The highway rest stops have been open to the public all throughout the pandemic. There doesn’t appear to be any special cleaning protocol in place; I just make sure to carry hand sanitizer and masks when I use the rest stops.

    7. Jaybee*

      I am also confused by this. If the restaurant is open but not allowing people inside, that sounds like a COVID safety measure, not staffing.

      I’m thinking maybe these restaurants have signs up to the effect of ‘sorry! This inconvenience is because people don’t want to work!’ to redirect ire away from themselves, and LW took those signs at face value?

      1. Brekaroo*

        If a fast food restaurant is open and lets people inside, they need people to take orders and money at the drive-thru, dispense food at the drive-thru window, run dine-in cash registers, bus food to the dine-in counter, clean tables/empty trash/sweep dining area, and cook food for drive thru + dine-in capacity. If a fast food restaurant is open and is drive-thru only, they need to people to take orders and money at the drive-thru, dispense food at the drive-thru window, and cook food for drive-thru. You go from needing approximately 8 people to needing 4. It’s a staffing issue.

    8. Purple Cat*

      It might be both, they might only have enough staff to man a drive-thru window without the indoor store being open (I had to buy JUST a gift card at a fast food drive-thru at Christmas because the restaurant itself was closed).

    9. Hlao-roo*

      It’s not spelled out clearly in the letter, but I think the connection is this:

      McDonald’s is short on staff, so they are only open for drive-thru. Dining room is closed to (1) decrease the amount of customers and (2) reduce cleaning duties. Because the McDonald’s dining room is closed, the bathrooms are closed to customers/passers-by.

      And to I edit everything’s point above, I imagine some places are open fewer hours because staff are out with COVID, not necessarily because too many employees quit. Also, other places (I’m thinking more churches and hotels) may have closed bathrooms to non-members/non-guests to try to limit COVID spread.

    10. Nichole*

      It’s because a lot of these places are closing their lobby/restaurant area to prevent walk ins due to not enough staff to accommodate services beyond a drive through. It happens a lot here. They are open, but not for walk ins. If the bathroom is inside…

    11. OP here*

      Hi! OP here. Just wanted to clarify. I went to all these places and they were all open as “drive thru only” when I asked about restrooms in the drive thru, they specifically responded that “we do not have the staff to be able to open the lobby.” If the lobby isn’t open, the restrooms aren’t open. And if no gas stations, restaurants, or other public places have the staff to open their restrooms… there are no restrooms to go to when you’re hundreds of miles from your home AND destination and don’t know anyone in that place. It sucks, but that was the reality the day I was traveling there. On the way back, things improved! It was just a crappy crappy day for me, and my family took my frustration and amplified it with a lot of crappy rhetoric about how “people need to suck it up and get back to work.” I was hoping Alison could help me find a happy medium… I’m not sure there is one though. I’m not in a position to push for better wages/benefits because my company already has that, but I have to suffer the consequences of other companies not having that.

  12. That IT Guy*

    OP says: “My friends and family are very split on this issue, and many are in the “suck it up and get back to work” camp, even though I strongly disagree and have always defended the side of worker’s rights when in these conversations.”

    Tell your friends that they’re more than welcome to take the crappy jobs they seem to be so willing to force others to work.

    1. Stephi*

      Right. I’d like to see one of these “get back to work” people actually say to a somebody’s face that they should work a crappy job for crappy pay for their convenience.

      1. That IT Guy*

        Especially since the “get back to work” people are almost uniformly also the “just get a better job” people.

      2. Stevie*

        Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these people felt comfortable doing just that. There is often an overlap with the, “I worked hard all on my own to get where I am” type who look down others who are also doing hard work in a blue-collar or service industry profession.

      3. JohannaCabal*

        I’m totally expecting some lawmaker to introduce a bill to round up folks on unemployment and force them to work these jobs. Sort of like the corvée system in the 18th century.

        (Of course, I don’t agree with this at all and I doubt such a bill would pass. At least, I hope not but the past two years have shown that anything is possible).

        1. Nephron*

          Welfare to work basically is that and the you must apply to X number of jobs and take any interview offered and accept any job unemployment determines you should take even if the salary will not pay half of your rent.

          This is why when restaurants started offering free food for interviews people were warning not to apply for the food because you could lose benefits.

    2. Nephron*

      That position assumes there are people not working. Extra unemployment money has been gone for awhile for a lot of states in the south and middle of the country over 6 months, and the unemployment rate is really low. We lost close to (if not more than, based on recording issues) a million people to Covid19.

      I don’t think there are people not working that can suddenly fill those roles. The people that would take those jobs are either dead or working somewhere else.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          What I have seen in my area is it was a huge hit to the low-income labor force, not due to the 800,000 being unable to work, but because they often served as free/cheap childcare for grandkids, great niblings, etc.. For a lot of single parents, elders were their childcare, now that is gone due to death or disability, and alternatives either don’t exist or are unaffordable

          1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

            That makes complete sense – and it’s not even a death thing, just a “we don’t feel comfortable watching your kid when you have a job that involves interacting with the public.”

        2. Risha*

          That’s not really how a labor force works. You don’t need young people dying in large numbers to see a labor shortage in jobs traditionally occupied by the young.

          Lots and lots of people work past 64, either because they want to keep busy, or because our culture says working is a good thing, or due to financial necessity. My age group won’t even be eligible to collect social security until the upper 60s, but the current full retirement age is already at 66, I believe. I’ll probably still be working then anyway, since my daughter won’t even graduate college until I’m 66 (assuming a normal schedule and 4 year degree), and older parents are very common these days so I won’t be alone.

          Then the threat of dying of Covid convinced a ton of older workers (who, on average, would have had better jobs and pay) to retire 3, 5, or even 10 or more years earlier than they would have otherwise. This created openings for better jobs that a younger person could then move into. Simultaneously, a swath of the younger population went out of the job market (and thus, out of the unemployment stats) due to Covid-related childcare issue and ongoing disability from “Long Covid.”

          1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

            Nephron said that we lost a million workers to COVID. That simply isn’t true, sorry.

            1. Risha*

              Depends on the definition you use of “lost”. Is it a million dead? Probably not, even with the issues with reporting. Are we down a million workers for Covid related reasons (death, retirement, disability, childcare and eldercare shortages, decreased immigration, switched to part time doordash and instacart because it’s better money and safer than being a line cook)? …it’s pretty likely, yeah. Or maybe we’re getting there.

            2. miro*

              That simply isn’t true, sorry. If you’re being picky (and you clearly are) then I have to point out that Nephron didn’t say we lost a million *workers*, they said, and I quote “We lost close to … a million *people* to Covid19.”(emphasis mine)

    3. Resident Catholicville, USA*

      Except that teaches companies/management that SOMEONE will step up and participate in their scheme to keep employee pay low, especially say if people who don’t need the income (having a full time job that pays well, retired, or independently wealthy) take those jobs.

    4. kiki*

      This seems like such a strange mentality and statement to me. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like it assumes there is a group of people who must, no matter what, work at the McDonalds or whatever. Like, if I quit a job for whatever reason, I no longer work there and have no obligations to that company. I’m a free agent who can do whatever I want to with my life and career. The “suck it up and get up to work” sentiment seems to assume this isn’t true of all people.

      1. OyHiOh*

        “The ‘suck it up and get up to work’ sentiment seems to assume this isn’t true of all people.

        I think this is exactly the problem. The person who thinks these kinds of thoughts really, truly believes there is a stable “natural” working poor population whose only reason for existence is to do the work the rest of us don’t want to do.

        1. Middle of HR*

          And when you dig into it sadly many would say that the “natural” population who should occupy those jobs are Black and brown folks.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        “The “suck it up and get up to work” sentiment seems to assume this isn’t true of all people.”

        Look at the original letter. The first argument the LW makes is “I support workers 100% in organizing for better conditions and wages, whether by leaving their jobs…” In other words, this statement of forward-thinking opens with a literal statement against slavery. I was expecting this to be followed by “But…” To the LW’s credit, it was not. But it is rather striking that a discussion of current-day economic policy opens with a disclaimer about slavery.

        1. OyHiOh*

          I was only editorializing from kiki’s comment above, not ragging on the LW, who seems to be a concerned, good human trying to figure out how to navigate workers rights in addition to the limitations of the US’s service based economy (which, incidentally, I thought sounded like complete utter nonsense the first time one of my high school teachers described how the US was moving away from manufacture to service-based; by then, my community had already endured the trauma of an industry shutting down and leaving for overseas – it’s very hard to have a service-based local economy when half a community’s workers have little available income that isn’t tied up in housing/transportation/food costs).

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I’m not ragging on the LW either, but noting that a disclaimer about slavery is even part of the conversation.

  13. jennabot*

    I feel the need to point out that we aren’t in a “labor shortage” because of organizing. Over 800,000 people have died in the last year and a half. Any conversation about staffing that doesn’t acknowledge those deaths is a painfully incomplete one.

    1. miro*

      This is a really good point (one that I’ll fully/shamefully admit to not keeping fully in mind myself).

    2. cubone*

      And how many “labourers” aren’t able to work due to the debilitating health impacts of COVID too. The idea that people “just don’t want to work” is such a fantasy.

      1. Windchime*

        Exactly this. Just because someone survives Covid, doesn’t mean they fully recover. Many people who have had it will never work again due to the long-term effects.

    3. tg*

      On top of that, a lot of jobs here (Ireland) are done by migrant workers. Once upon a time, it was easy to visit your home country regulary and cheaply. With Covid, travel has become much more difficult and people have moved home.

      In some industries (food service etc.) places were closed for over a year, so any foreign workers went home (since they had no work) and they aren’t going to come back to this country to work when the whole industry could be locked down again at any time. This may well not apply to the US.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        It’s certainly the same in Canada, and probably the US as well. A lot of farm labour is done by foreign workers, who go home to their own countries during the off season. Then because of Covid they either couldn’t get back in, or didn’t want to risk it.

      2. Secondtime Poster*

        In addition to this, I read that the largest driver of the gap in the workforce right now is people who have retired earlier than expected (appears to be covid related). The weird narrative of the young person unwilling to work at all is so not supported by the data!

    4. Jaybee*

      And in addition to those deaths, many additional people are facing immediate and potentially lifelong disability that may impact their ability to work; and many people who had been hanging on past retirement age chose to retire over the past two years, creating a labor vacuum as people move up into suddenly open positions.

      1. New But Not New*

        I’m the opposite, fully eligible to retire but why during a pandemic? am comfortable and Covid protected working at home, and I’m not going to travel while Covid is burning. So, I’ll stack up a little more money.

    5. The Original K.*

      COVID has also been a mass disabling event. We (collectively) aren’t talking nearly enough about long COVID. If you can’t walk for more than a few minutes because your lungs are damaged, a lot of jobs are unavailable to you. If you still have “brain fog,” a lot of jobs are unavailable to you.

      1. Lora*

        THIS. Based on the medical studies of Long Covid, plus people doing early retirement, plus deaths, we’re looking at a 10-15% drop in the workforce participation. Never mind parents going down to part time or taking leaves of absence because schools aren’t consistently open. That’s huge.

        OP, for what it’s worth – I had the exact same experience in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession. Obviously it wasn’t Covid at the time: it was that the recession had driven so many small roadside diner type of businesses out of existence (including franchise owners) and the tax base shrinking drastically so the state rest stops were shuttered as well. I was driving to visit family and in addition to the many many farmhouses whose doors still had foreclosure notices stuck to them, every Dunkin Donuts, diner and gas station for 175 miles of interstate highway in a rural state had closed. Weeds growing up through the parking lot asphalt, closed. After that I started packing a picnic meal, a tote full of emergency supplies, two gas cans before I hit the road, and made up my mind to take the more scenic route . It’s not so bad to pee on the side of the road when only wildlife can see you.

        I think we (and businesses) should expect severe disruption of services to continue, long after Covid is endemic, on account of climate change disruptions as well: a lot of the plastics shortages that are impacting the ability to make more vaccines and a lot of consumer packaging come from lack of climate change preparation, not from Covid. It’s just not going to get better. A lot of people are dreaming of the Olden Days and imagining all this is temporary, but things may never be back to what they once were. If you assume this is how things are going to be, forever, and adjust accordingly, you can be pleasantly surprised if they improve. But really I think people need to adjust their expectations.

      2. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

        Yep. And the fatigue and malaise – even if we’re talking about a fully-remote desk job, a lot of people simply don’t have the energy for fulltime hours now.

    6. CeeKee*

      Yup–people have died and then others have had to leave the workforce to become caregivers, because of the ripple effects of the pandemic.

    7. BPT*

      And even though a majority of deaths are from the elderly that may have not been in the workforce, that’s still many grandparents or caregivers who provided childcare so that parents could work now gone, meaning many in the workforce have to drop out (and most of those are women) to provide childcare. And not to mention those with long-COVID, or those with an immunocompromised person in the house.

    8. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Not just the deaths, but also:

      -People are disabled and unable to work
      -People are caring for the newly disable and thus unavailable to work
      -Parents don’t have child care or their child care isn’t reliable, so they can’t work
      -A lot of Boomers retired, either because they planned to or they moved up their time frame (this is separate from the other categories)
      -People took the unemployment money and got training or education so they aren’t stuck with the crappy jobs they used to be stuck with (this hits such industries as retail, etc)
      -People got laid off and found other work out of necessity so don’t need to go back

      I’m sure I’m missing things. Point is, not only did the labor pool shrink, it also shifted. And thus everything else has to adjust.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yes, there has been a lot of shifting, for all the reasons you list. Companies can’t find workers not just because they aren’t paying enough, but there simply aren’t as many workers available.

        Reliable, affordable, and safe childcare would help, but that’s going to require the end of the pandemic first. (And, of course, for childcare to be affordable, the workers get low pay, so without money from another input, it’s not going to happen.)

      2. Empress Matilda*

        People are burnt out, too. Those who are able to work are often carrying the load for those who aren’t, along with their own work and their own worries about the pandemic and their quote-unquote “normal” stresses as well. So they get burnt out and leave, which puts more stress on the ones who remain, who then also get burnt out and leave. And so on.

        My kids’ school doesn’t even bother telling us when teachers go on leave any more – they just send a weekly list of who’s away. In a school with ~500 kids, there are close to a dozen teachers on leave for one reason or another right now.

      3. Loredena Frisealach*

        Even some GenX of my acquaintance have started choosing to retire early!

        And a lot of immigrants are missing from the workplace, because they left the country and didn’t or couldn’t return due to travel restrictions.

    9. It's Growing!*

      True, but the COVID deniers will just say it’s an old person’s disease and only old folks and those so unfit, a condition for which they are personally responsible and therefore they got sick, die. Those people weren’t in the work force any more anyway, so no connection and no great loss. A family up the hill lost a member, but claim it wasn’t COVID, it was black lung disease. Said dead person was never anywhere near a coal mine and tested positive for COVID at the hospital in which he died, but it definitely wasn’t COVID. The labor shortage in their eyes is just a bunch of lazy Commies out for the generous benefits doled out by the *derogatory word* administration. There is no point to such conversations.

      1. pancakes*

        They can say whatever they like; the rest of us aren’t obliged to play along with the idea that these are good, accurate talking points. Rejecting them isn’t pointless.

    10. AdequateArchaeologist*

      This! We have lost 800k people, many more are disabled, caregivers (especially women) have been forced to leave the workforce due to lack of childcare or adequate safety measures (my mother can’t work outside the home and risk bringing covid to my elderly grandparents), and I’ve seen several articles talking about how boomers (the largest generation in our workforce currently) are taking early retirement more frequently than years past, this creating more vacant positions.

      This is an issue with three massive prongs to it, not just “lazy government handouts”. And that’s not even going into people being fed up with being treated poorly and moving to better jobs when they can. This is a giant mess with so many shifting parts that people seem to be determined to have ignore!

    11. Resident Catholicville, USA*

      Also, nearly 200k people died of drug overdoses in 2019 and 2020- presumably, those were mostly working age people, as people under 18 and over retirement age probably make up a pretty small percentage of drug abusers and/or overdoses. Those people are probably also in predominantly service industry or manual labor jobs. I have tried to find stats about this, but I must not have the right Google mastery skills because I’m having trouble with it.

    12. Artemesia*

      The overwhelming majority of those who have ‘resigned’ are people who have chosen to retire earlier than they might have otherwise. so you have older people retiring who would have worked another 10 years and you have thousands who have died and hundreds of thousands who are now disabled by long COVID — and we have clamped down on immigration and suddenly you have genuine labor shortages. And jobs that are crummy and don’t pay well and offer benefits are hardest hit.

    13. Cat Tree*

      I’ve heard that the bubonic plague also resulted in improved labor rights for the surviving population for similar reasons.

    14. Lynn*

      THANK YOU. Surprised I had to scroll this far down to find this comment.

      Take this with a grain of salt because the study wasn’t peer reviewed and official at the time but early reports indicated that the profession that increased the most in mortality early in the pandemic was line cook (along with warehouse workers, bakers, agricultural workers, and construction workers). Low paying jobs faced disproportionate increases in mortality on the whole.

      https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/02/jobs-where-workers-have-the-highest-risk-of-dying-from-covid-study.html

    15. Librarian of SHIELD*

      And thousands of parents and grandparents who have had to leave the workforce because their families lost access to childcare.

      1. pancakes*

        Yep. An economist at the US Census Bureau “found that in September and October of this year, there were 1.4 million fewer mothers actively engaged with the labor force than those same months in 2019.” I’ll link to the article (“Quitting is just half the story: the truth behind the ‘Great Resignation’” by Rashida Kamal) in a separate reply.

    16. mmppgh*

      This is very true and important to pause and acknowledge. Just to offer some context, I pulled the stats on this a few months ago and confirmed it again: 75% of deaths were 65+ which is generally not working age. In fairness though, there are a number of retirement age individuals who worked in service jobs to supplement their paltry SS. I am sure many decided ‘forget this’ and didn’t go back when businesses reopened. I think some of the other items mentioned have been more of a factor than deaths. Not dismissing you thoughtful comment at all, but wanted to share additional perspective.

      1. pancakes*

        In addition the problem of the CDC getting patchy data from some states (which I linked to an article about above), I want to point out that deaths apparently related to long Covid appear to be undercounted:

        “There have been an estimated 942,431 excess deaths in the US since February 2020, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . . .

        Many of the deaths aren’t counted in the official Covid tally, he said, because they happen months after Covid infections. ‘The deaths that are being reported as Covid deaths greatly understate the actual death losses among working-age people from the pandemic. It may not all be Covid on their death certificates, but deaths are up in just huge, huge numbers.’”

        I’ll link to the article in a separate reply, but in the meantime, it’s “True number of Covid deaths in the US probably undercounted, experts say” by Melody Schreiber.

  14. Just Another Middle School Teacher*

    It also goes beyond the “people just don’t want to work anymore” and the “businesses just don’t want to pay their workers” dichotomy.

    Almost a million people have died in the last year. Yes, many were elderly and no longer in the work force, but hundreds (?) of thousands of people who used to work cannot now. Immigration – both legal and not – has been drastically reduced in the previous 5 years.

    We have dramatically less people ABLE to work. Companies need to adjust and stop acting like this country is full of lazy folks sitting on the couch.

    1. Just Another Middle School Teacher*

      *In the last 2 years, not just the last year. Although does time have meaning anymore???

    2. Jackalope*

      And even for the people who were retirement age, there’s a good chance that many of them were helping out with childcare and so their deaths have an indirect effect on the workforce even if they themselves wouldn’t have been applying for jobs.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I also have professional level friends DESPERATELY job searching who can’t find jobs. Many of the available jobs are in the service industry or other industries that have terrible reputations surrounding how they treat and pay their workers. You can’t support a family on those wages. It’s a complex issue that people are willfully oversimplifying to villainize workers.

    4. Prefer my pets*

      And not just the deaths…I know so many people who are looking at permanent disability from long covid. The ratio of long covid to deaths is huge…depending on which study & country you’re looking at, 20-40 long-haulers for every death.

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Also, those older people were often the free/low cost child care for younger relatives working in lower paid jobs. I know a number of people who have pulled out of the service sector because grandma, grandpa, auntie, uncle, etc died or became disabled because of COVID (people also seem to forget that this has been a mass morbidity event as well as a mortality one) and now they have no childcare. This is especially try for swing and night shift workers. Getting childcare for a 2 pm to 10 or a 12 am to 8 am shift that they can afford is almost impossible for many workers.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This! There are no childcare centers where I live that accommodate Swing and Night Shift hours. I am able to work a swing shift only because I’m married and spouse can cover child care responsibilities while I’m at work.

        But it’s tough on the two of us to constantly be working opposite shifts to keep jobs and take care of our kids. In a way the pandemic has been good to us because spouse has been wfh constantly since the start – just the ability to have lunch at our dining room table together has been hugely beneficial.

    6. Just Another Zebra*

      Let’s also not forget the number of people (women, predominantly) who have had to leave the work force due to child care shortages. And all the people who took early retirement and left employment gaps companies weren’t prepared for. It’s such a multi-faceted issue, beyond not wanting to work or not wanting to pay for work.

      So I 100% agree – we’re past the point of “lazy people on the couches collecting unemployment”.

    7. Stormy Weather*

      Companies need to adjust and stop acting like this country is full of lazy folks sitting on the couch.

      Hell to the yes.

    8. dePizan*

      Also want to point out that several reports at the end of last year showed that a record number of people retired in 2020-21. Some have since returned to work as they were early retirements, but 60% of those who are unemployed say that they have left work for good. The majority of the labor shortage is not being driven by young people not wanting to work, but more that one of the largest working generations is aging out. We’ve known for decades this was going to happen and that it would cause issues, as Gen X wasn’t large enough to make up the gap and Millennials only surpassed Boomers in size in 2019 (due to young people immigrating into the US).

    9. ---*

      *Fewer, not less. If you can count the unit individually (like people), the adverb is “few” or “fewer.”

  15. my roflcopter goes soi soi soi*

    As a frontline worker and spouse to a frontline worker, the demands for more and more sacrifice from people like us is just plain nasty. No one’s convenience should come on the backs of people already burnt out, trampled on, and facing angry mask/vaxholes for years now.
    I hope your experience contributes to learning empathy someday.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I’m not seeing where OP doesn’t have empathy? You can empathize with someone working a frontline job and still be frustrated that you couldn’t go to the bathroom.

      (My husband is a teacher, my SIL is a 2nd year nursing student — yes, that means she decided to pursue a career in nursing during a pandemic — who sometimes works covid units. I have unending levels of empathy and support for frontline workers.)

    2. ecnaseener*

      The entire point of this letter is that LW *does* have empathy for the workers and never takes out her frustrations on them, but can’t help feeling frustrated. Feelings are funny that way!

  16. AnonInNyc*

    Yes yes yes! A million times yes! Companies can’t require ppl to come into work and simultaneously not enact the utmost protective measures, and get all shock pikachu-faced when the omicron wipes out 70% of their employees. The US has a dangerous and irresponsible culture of roughing it and sticking it out when it comes to sickness. Companies should absolutely provide sick leave and plan for contingencies especially now that we’re 2 years deep into COVID.

    1. my roflcopter goes soi soi soi*

      My workplace tells us if we’re masked & vaxed it’s our own fault if we catch covid. Then they bring 15,000 students back for in-person classes.

      1. Meghan*

        Egads. My GM just rolls his eyes when someone is out because they’re sick, whether with Covid or a cold or the flu or any number of germs that I, personally, do not want in my space.

        My son’s daycare just sent out new Covid guidelines and scenarios and I must say it is a little confusing because, from my reading of what they put together, because I am vaxxed and boosted basically I should only quarantine if I test positive? If I’ve been around someone who tests positive I don’t *have* to quarantine, but I should wear my mask for 10 days and get tested at day 5? Yeah, no. My biggest fear has been unknowingly giving this illness to someone who is compromised or older and might not survive it. So my GM can roll his eyes at me all he wants, if someone near to me tests positive, I’m going into quarantine until I am sure.

  17. StateWorker*

    Not sure if you have the power to do this, but if you can find new contractors that don’t have a staffing problem. It’s better for everyone in the long run.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      Not the OP, but it isn’t that simple for us. Most of the time the issue is in production – factories need raw materials (that there is a shortage of) for their workers (running at 50% capacity) to make, and then ship (which is delayed) to the end user. When customers complain about lead times on products, we invite them to shop around. Everyone is in the same boat, unless you work someplace that has the overhead to carry extra stock.

    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      At this point, I really don’t think there’s many places that DON’T have a staffing problem.

  18. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    I was just having this conversation with myself while running today and I landed on the, “If I have to be inconvenienced for workers to have decent protections, so be it.” I think we all got used to having things a certain way and, like the LW and the bathroom situation*, are getting caught out with the new norms. Getting frustrated is fine because getting used to change can be frustrating. We might be moving into a world where you can’t rely on businesses to provide you toilets on road trips for the cost of a soda and it will take some getting used to (if it happens)

    * My job involves a lot of driving in places where toilets are not available, so deep sympathy on highway pees. I usually open my front and back doors and throw a blanket over the back door to give a little shelter so I don’t moon traffic

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      I’m also hoping that this will be a transition period to a new normal as well where either workers are better paid/protected or other safe non-business toilets are available. For OP, us, homeless, disabled people, everybody!

  19. Jack Sprat*

    As workers, we’ve become accustomed to feeling trapped in our jobs because it’s really tough to find another one.

    Now employers feel trapped in their businesses because it’s really tough to find another worker.

    Hopefully this will lead to some introspection and reflection on their parts. I doubt it, but it might.

  20. CeeKee*

    The thing I try to remember when I’m tempted to lapse into the thinking that it’s frustrating that “people” or “workers” aren’t staffing the places where I want to go is that my annoyance could just as well be directed at myself. I’m also “people,” and I’m also not working at a gas station or a McDonald’s right now…so I’m just as worthy a target of frustration as anyone else.
    That then makes me aware of how specious that argument is in the first place–I’m not working at a gas station because I have better options as far as compensation and working conditions, and if others also have options for better compensation and conditions, that’s excellent!

    1. Avril Ludgateau*

      I LOVE this perspective! I direct all my ire at the companies and not labor, in the first place, but this is a great way to confront a person with the realization that, same as they wouldn’t work those jobs for that pay… neither will the people who previously did, anymore.

  21. LCH*

    Definitely get annoyed with the companies. A friend’s work just fired several people, including her, for requesting a client wear a mask which was company policy. The client made a big stink hence the firings. So now they are down workers for no good reason.

    1. MarsJenkar*

      I expect they may have trouble filling the vacancy. In these conditions, I suspect most people don’t want to work the front lines without proper compensation and/or assurances of safety, and this company is definitely not providing the latter.

      1. LCH*

        fingers crossed that this screws them over, but i doubt most applicants will know about it. they will just see a company that has mask mandates in place without knowing the company will fire you if you try to enforce them.

  22. tg*

    On top of that, a lot of jobs here (Ireland) are done by migrant workers. Once upon a time, it was easy to visit your home country regulary and cheaply. With Covid, travel has become much more difficult and people have moved home.

    In some industries (food service etc.) places were closed for over a year, so any foreign workers went home (since they had no work) and they aren’t going to come back to this country to work when the whole industry could be locked down again at any time. This may well not apply to the US.

      1. tg*

        Yeah, we’re not as badly affected as the UK, but there have been huge supply chain issues because everything used to come through the UK and now everything is being reworked to form a more stable supply chain. I don’t know if the US is affected by this.

      2. UKDancer*

        Definitely. The cleaning company I use to clean my flat has just put the hourly cost up. This is in part because they’re struggling to recruit people to work as cleaners. A lot of their previous staff were Romanian or Bulgarian and they have returned to their homes at the start of the pandemic and with that and Brexit have not chosen to come back. So things cost more as a result.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      It very much applies in the US. Pretty much every major resort town during either summer or winter is primarily staffed by workers from abroad, for example (I know because I have family members who travelled every year to work there).

  23. Food for thought*

    I think it helps to recognize that your frustrations are arising from assumptions that many of us have about the way things are. People tend to think that just because things have been a certain way, that things will always be that way. We have a lot of trouble understanding nuance and change.

    It’s very possible that the world has changed permanently in some ways. Everyone keeps expecting things to go back to just like how they were in 2019. That might not happen. Or it might. But we’re the one making the assumption that it MUST. And we get frustrated when it doesn’t.

    But what if, just using your example, the prevalence of conveniently located fast food and gas stations was a result of an unsustainable use of people and resources? One that was able to work for a few decades, but has now been rendered impossible by current circumstances? What if we never go back to that model?

    Of course, we likely will, in those specific examples. But there are almost certainly things that will never be the same again. Things have been changed forever by the circumstances the whole world is experiencing.

    We’ve got to get better at managing change.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Well said.
      I was discussing with someone that the extent of eating out, or takeout a significant # of nights a week is dramatically different than when I was younger (and I’m not THAT old). That accessibility has absolutely come at the cost of labor going down over time. I don’t want to wish companies to go out of business, but when they’re exploiting workers, is that the right trade-off?

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, I have been saying something similar every time someone asks “When will things go back to the way they were?” I think this is the logic of the people who won’t follow basic safety protocols: If we pretend there is no problem then there won’t be a problem. They believe the real problem is those of us trying to adapt to the new reality because if we “allow” things to change then they may never go back to the way they used to be.

      …and you know what? Lots of things should NOT go back to the way they used to be. Covid has been a magnifying glass, exposing the cracks in businesses and society as a whole. The specific problem the LW is experiencing is really just a symptom.

      1. Tired social worker*

        Your second paragraph echoes my exact feelings on this. It’s not entirely charitable of me, since people have a right to mourn the parts of the “old normal” that they lost – but I’ve developed almost a fight-or-flight reaction to the phrase “back to normal.” I just feel like it speaks to a willful lack of imagination, and a refusal to consider that “normal” was, at best, irreparably broken, and at worst intentionally designed to keep us miserable. I have such a hard time understanding why that is something we should want to go back to. There are lots of valid reasons to want the current version of reality to be over, with the deadly disease and subsequent danger to poorly-paid frontline workers being the most compelling. But I want to rip my hair out at the idea that the solution to those pandemic-exacerbated inequities is to go *backward*.

        For so many, the changes forced by Covid have prompted some much-needed reflection and even opened up access to opportunities – like disabled people who had been denied remote accommodations pre-2020 but are now more included in their educational and work environments, thanks to everyone having to use Zoom; or overworked professionals who were finally *forced* to take a moment to breathe, and realized that they’d barely had any time pre-Covid to actually enjoy the life they were working for; the recognition (among at least some of us) that the people who really keep society running are among the worst paid and most exploited – grocery workers, farm workers, sanitation workers, teachers, healthcare workers.

        In those first few months in 2020 when businesses and governments were chomping at the bit to reopen prematurely, I guessed that a good part of that hastiness was nervousness that if people stuck around in the “new normal” long enough, they’d realize what a terrible deal the “old normal” was and start pushing back. Nothing I’ve seen since then has really challenged that view. And lots of those initial “gains” (if you can call them that after it took a literal pandemic to get them) have eroded – the surge in appreciation for frontline workers, healthcare workers, and teachers has pretty much vanished, for example. There were lots of lessons we *should* have taken from this, starting with the fact that tying health insurance to work is an awful idea, but I almost feel like the response from employers and government was engineered to keep us too exhausted and resentful to actually see the big picture and mobilize effectively.

        I’m not generally an optimistic person, but for a moment there in Spring 2020 I wondered if this awful experience might finally force us to address the exploitation at the root of “normal”. I held onto sanity by looking forward to a future where we actually built something resembling a safety net. I really should have known better.

    3. MsSolo (UK)*

      There’s some interesting discussions going on in the UK around how the switch to electric cars will change long distance driving, since a lot of rural petrol (gas) stations aren’t ideal for charging (since it takes longer), and decommissioning a petrol station has a lot of environmental implications that may discourage re-use without a guaranteed stream of customers. Big motorway service stations with car parks and fast food outlets should be able to transition fairly easily, but little two-pump petrol stations in the middle of nowhere may disappear, which is going to be a problem for people who need the loo (or a pint of milk on a Sunday).

    4. Rayray*

      I agree. I’ve thought a lot about this and one thing I think about a lot is how we are too accustomed to certain conveniences that maybe just aren’t feasible and this pandemic has accelerated that. For example, There’s way more fast food places than there were 10,20, 30+ years ago. Do we really need dozens of options in a 3 mile radius? Or can we simply just cook at home more or pack sandwiches or dinner leftovers for lunch? If we don’t have enough people wanting to work at these places and they shut down, we’re going to be fine. Honestly. What we do need though are grocery stores and medics clinics, that’s where we actually need workers but we also need to pay them a decent wage and treat them well. It would also help if people could work these jobs and at least afford to rent a bedroom in a house but that’s not even possible in many places anymore but it was just 5-10 years ago (at least in Salt Lake City where I live). A lot of people are flocking instead to
      Warehouses, at home customer support jobs, or back to school so they can afford a decent quality of life. Who wants to work at Wendy’s for $11/hour and endure abuse from the general public when they could jus work a customer support job from home for $18/hour? NO ONE.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Hello from the southern end of that valley. Yup, the flock to the warehouses is alive and well down here too. And the customers aren’t getting anything but worse when you have to let them know that, nope, I really do have to reschedule your medical appointment – the drs/NP’s are all out sick today.
        I really don’t know what these people think is going to be improved by yelling swears and curses at me through a phone line.

      2. Kit*

        > Or can we simply just cook at home more or pack sandwiches or dinner leftovers for lunch? If we don’t have enough people wanting to work at these places and they shut down, we’re going to be fine.

        I feel compelled to point out that this approach disregards a number of people who cannot, in fact, “just cook at home more.” Those who don’t have access to groceries, or to a functional kitchen, or to time (often because they’re working two jobs to try to make ends meet, or parenting, or caretaking), or who lack the physical/mental/emotional capacity to cook… still deserve to eat. A shift towards more sustainable, higher-quality food options can’t start by cutting off the most accessible avenues for those with the least power.

    5. JohannaCabal*

      The problem, though, (and I know this is a landmine) is that if enough people don’t like changes and want to go back to the 2019 mindset is that they could vote for folks offering a vision of “halcyon days of yore.” I worry that large groups in my country are tired of hearing about COVID and restrictions going back due to variants. And factoring in human nature, makes me very uneasy.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This – my kids’ school just imposed a 30 masking mandate because of the latest variant infecting people (even vaccinated ones) in huge numbers. This morning some parent hijacked the school email to send out a huge screed/rant against vaccinating and masking for her precious baby, because their kid(s) find it uncomfortable and infringing.

        It took all of my self control to only delete the email, instead of replying back that I as a fellow parent and front line worker wanted to boot them into the sun, and they could take their germ spewing spawn with them.

        Unfortunately, the world has changed, Covid has shown that the before wasn’t sustainable. What we need to do is move forward with the new reality – and all it’s bumps and stumbles.

        1. JohannaCabal*

          One would hope. But my home state’s recent election is making me nervous. People don’t like change. And the kids who’ve had their lives disrupted by the past two years may place the blame on the wrong institutions involved, especially if they have parents like the one who sent that email.

    6. Lora*

      Agreed. You would think this would be a prime opportunity for the companies reliant on service workers to INNOVATE! I mean, that’s their favorite buzzword, right? Along with DISRUPT THE DOMINANT PARADIGM or whatever.

      But: automated vending machines for burgers and fries, or one of those pizza machines that is scandalizing Italy at the moment? Japan is chock full of vending machines for everything, it’s not like it’s new technology. Would take very few workers to keep them stocked and set up, and you could set up any number of automated cameras to keep an eye on them. Why doesn’t McDonalds and all those places get vending machines, if they can’t hire staff at wages they can afford? Sure, perhaps they’d have to work on developing products that can be managed by existing vending machine technology, but I would think that costs less than losing market share due to staff shortages.

      There are self-cleaning public toilet cubicles in Europe, which we could certainly improve significantly and set up in the US (please, if we do this let there be a nearby toilet paper vending machine).

      We have this whole Internet Of Things tech nonsense, and we’re using it to put Alexa in a microwave, where she does no good whatsoever. Why not automate the functions we can’t hire people to do (because they suck and pay crap wages)?

      1. Cdn Acct*

        Oh, I never thought about the possibilities of vending machines for things like this! I’ve spent time in Japan and miss the ubiquity of vending machines, the technology is so far advanced from just keeping cans of soda cold. I think it’s a fantastic idea.

      2. Qwerty*

        Supposedly McDonald’s has had automation options for at least a decade, not sure if they are prototypes or fully functional machines. It’s been a deliberate decision to stick with the more expensive option of hiring humans to avoid the backlash of taking jobs away. If staffing shortages continue post pandemic these will very likely start getting rolled out.

        It’s like how those self-order kiosks didn’t show up until a few years ago despite it being available at places like movie theaters since the early 2000’s. Staffing shortages were already a thing in a lot of areas for retail and fast food, the pandemic amplified the issue by adding public safety, childcare, job insecurity, etc to the table.

      3. Ev*

        I’ve been saying for years that we should bring back the automat. (Admittedly due to social anxiety, but yours are good reasons too.)

    7. Loredena Frisealach*

      It’s funny in a way, because I remember more rest stops w/bathrooms and fewer get off the highway/go to a business moments. And McDonalds spearheaded the change! Their claim to fame was building stores near highway exits and advertising clean bathrooms to travelers.

  24. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    When it comes to advocating for workers better, remember that as a purchasing organization, you do have the ability to affect change as well. You can insist that your suppliers have unions, or take your business elsewhere. You can create a company recognized union for your workers, without waiting for them to organize themselves. You can even insist on sourcing your products from ethical suppliers, based on wage and condition and their sourcing behavior and the rest.

    That sort of pressure is often helpful, when employees are trying to get treated well. Even something as simple as saying “No, we will not order dinner from any restaurant that relies on tips to pay their workers” can be expensive, but doing it openly and telling restaurants about it can help to apply pressure from much larger customers than individual people on the street, and maybe make their management listen.

    As far as not being frusturated… I have no sage advice there.

    1. High Score!*

      THIS. I’ve learned to cook my favorite restaurant meals at home bc restaurants expect servers to live off tips. Every time I eat out, I get on yelp and write a completely honest review. If I’m expected to tip then I do so generosity and I include that in the review and call out the restaurant for it

    2. High Score!*

      And if I go to a store and witness employees being treated poorly, I review the business and point that out. If you have a social media account, that is another way that everyone can support essential workers.
      Note, I am 100% against cancel culture but using social media to shine the light on injustice to improve jobs for everyone is a good way to use social media

  25. Emily*

    For services that are purely capitalist, I agree, let the market take care of it. Sorry but your bathrooms on the road are just not a basic human right. And for business owners, duh, you have a labor shortage, pay more.
    But… I feel differently about school closures. I think it’s atrocious how poorly teachers are paid, but striking and depriving kids of an education is absolutely unethical. Unions have stopped teachers who wanted to go back to teach in person. So organizing isn’t always the answer. This is just driving more people who really tried, tried to believe in the public school system to private schools, because at least there, there are market forces (if teachers don’t want to work in person due to covid, the private school can pay them more to make it worthwhile or whatever).

    1. LDN Layabout*

      Yeah, teachers should just suck it up and risk their own deaths or infecting a loved one. This is what they signed up for!

      Spare me.

      1. The Original K.*

        Right. Also kids don’t want to risk COVID either. Oakland students are threatening to strike if they don’t get ample COVID protections; failing ample protection, they want remote learning. I’ll see if I can find a link.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          There has been coverage recently about how children feel about being being in-person at peak outbreak and honestly it breaks my heart. We need to stop pretending that in-person teaching is roses and rainbows for them or that they also can’t experience a sense of fear.

      2. JohannaCabal*

        An old high school friend is a teacher and one of her admins said that one of the reasons their district is staying in-person is because of concerns about child abuse and neglect. My friend flat out asked, “so, why isn’t our county CPS going in and getting these kids out of these bad situations then?” The admin just shook their head and changed the subject.

        (And my friend does have sympathy for kids facing abuse and neglect at home. Yet every time she’s reported abuse, nothing has happened and the students are still in those homes.)

        1. LDN Layabout*

          It’s a tightrope to walk, just like closing offices means people in domestic violence situations are stuck. But if offices are kept open, even to a small number of people, you have to have facilities staff in, who are usually on lower salaries and you’re asking them to put themselves at risk either on public transport or in the office itself.

          1. JohannaCabal*

            And I recognize that foster families may not want to take the risk of taking in more kids. Plus, CPS staff likely also don’t want to risk their health doing home visits.

            It’s just frustrating that my friend who only wants to teach math has to be an unofficial social worker (minus training, of course) because more and more gets dumped on teachers.

        2. Cat Lover*

          My school district closed last week due to the snow, although realistically they only should’ve had 2-3 snow days, but I suspect from what some of my teacher friends have said that they were using the snow as an excuse to close. They are SO short staffed that the week closure was necessary.

    2. my roflcopter goes soi soi soi*

      Funny how many otherwise decent-seeming people lose it when it comes to teacher/school employee safety. Staff have been sacrificing themselves for years now, like medical professionals, but all we get is shade for wanting to work in safe environments and not die for your children/free daycare.

      1. Siege*

        As an employee of a teacher’s union, I often think it’s the free childcare some parents care about more than the child. Usually when the yelling about sucking it up starts.

        1. Ellie*

          Of course it is – home schooling and full-time working from home is incredibly hard, and I’m one of the lucky ones who can work from home. My cousin had to leave her job last time this happened, and they almost lost their house (their parents paid their mortgage for the entire time she was out of work). Education is important but its not as important as keeping the income coming in, which is why the childcare aspect is important too.

      2. pancakes*

        I remain unconvinced that people who think teachers — public or private! — should risk their lives to teach in-person right now are otherwise decent.

    3. CeeKee*

      I disagree strongly with this (though I know this topic has the potential to get especially heated), I think because I disagree with the premise that the primary casualty here is children’s education. Children in the U.S. have been deprived of a proper education for decades because of both overall underfunding and unequal distribution of what funds there are, so the education issue feels like a fig leaf for the real objection people have to school closures right now, which is that public schools function as free childcare for workers, and society wants those workers back at work.
      I don’t mean by that to say that I think *you* are insincere in your concern about children’s access to education; I believe you when you say you’re personally worried about this. But I feel doubtful about the sincerity of this argument on the level of public debate.

      1. That IT Guy*

        Imagine if we paid teachers not just as professional educators but also as the child care professionals that they often are. I dare say the US might finally have to move past property taxes as a way to fund schools.

    4. JB (not in Houston)*

      Wait, why are you bringing school closures into this conversation? Are people who travel trying to stop at schools to pee?

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My husband works for a private school system that pays him just fine. We’d gladly give that money back if they let him return to remote teaching. There’s no amount of money that makes in person teaching in this situation “worthwhile”.

      We already ask our teachers to be martyrs in so many ways. Let’s not act like they’re the villains here for drawing a line.

      And you know what’s really depriving children of an education? Contracting covid. 2/3 of the students at my husband’s school are out right now. Look at the public school numbers. Reevaluate your idea of “ethical”.

      1. dePizan*

        This. My 73 year old mother who works at a school and is basically already expected to just put her life on the line for these kids in the event of a shooting. And because she lives in a state that very much has mishandled COVID and has said that schools cannot put a mask mandate in place, she’s expected to put her life on the line for COVID too. She loves her job, loves the kids, but she’s absolutely done and will likely retire at the end of the year.

    6. Purple Cat*

      I understand your perspective, but I have to completely disagree.
      Teachers for a long time have been underpaid and underappreciated, and within in the past 2 years have been deemed disposable (spare me the “essential” nonsense).
      Teachers have just as much right as others to organize for better rights. If you (collectively) don’t want children “deprived of an education” than lobby your government to fund schools appropriately.

      1. Sammy Keyes*

        This. So well said.
        The teachers organizing isn’t the issue here. The issue is the conditions that make organizing the only option they have left!

    7. Jaybee*

      Sorry, you blame individual teachers for ‘depriving kids of an education’?

      Not, say, the system that’s set up to not pay teachers a living wage?

      I’m sure you know that’s not correct. Individual teachers did not take on the burden of educating the country’s children at their own expense; we, as voting citizens directing our government, made that choice, and over time tried to creep it back to get the best of both worlds. Children educated – but for free, or as close as possible. Surely you, an adult human (I assume) understand that’s not tenable, and either eventually the teachers strike for living wages or there are no teachers left because nobody can live on what teachers are paid.

    8. HigherEdAdminista*

      With all due respect, this is not a fair picture of the situation with schools and you are falling into the exact same trap as the LW wrote in about where you are blaming the wrong people. Businesses and nightlife have remained open. Travel has remained readily accessible. There is an extremely serious and contagious variant of a novel virus floating around. Very little has been done to make society safer and keep schools open.

      Teachers by and large do not like remote learning, but they have been put into a position where they are being sent into an unsafe school and so are the children they work with. In many places, mask mandates in schools do not exist and even where they do, there are not safe and effective mask options. Teachers are paying out of pocket for N95 masks. There are few N95 masks for children and they are out of budget for many, even if the families realize they are needed. School buildings are often old and do not have the best ventilation, so they are teaching in freezing places with open windows. In New York, there was a scandal when the former mayor purchased air purifiers for classrooms and didn’t even buy ones that were HEPA filtered; independent testing showed these air purifiers to be ineffective. There is no social distancing in class; the classes are as large as they ever were. Students go to lunch in crowded lunchrooms and remove their masks to eat. The testing situation is a joke in many cases. In NYC they are boasting of doubling the testing, but if you look at the numbers, this can mean as few as 17 people in a building of hundreds or thousands will be test. They are not getting exposure notifications until days and days later, if at all. And they are getting sick in large numbers, as are the children. When they get sick, many are starting to be pressured to return to work 5 days after their symptoms begin, regardless of their recovery, to make up for the fact that there aren’t enough healthy teachers and subs to keep the schools going.

      This isn’t the fault of the teacher’s union or teachers. In NYC in fact, the union is in lockstep with the mayor who controls the schools, bragging about their teachers keeping things open, even as kids are spending all day warehoused in auditoriums, not learning, because there are too many sick teachers to keep classes together.

      This is again the fault of leadership. We had time to improve ventilation, come up with an adequate test and trace program, to outfit everyone with high quality masks and mandate their use. We could be arranging to have hybrid or online learning for short period during outbreaks. We could make other unsafe activities temporarily close during a peak so we can keep schools open. We could be doing anything to help with children’s mental health instead of pretending they are traumatized by online learning and NOT by the out of control pandemic.

      Teachers did not sign up to get sick and become disabled with Long COVID when they got their certifications. They are people too and if the conditions of their jobs are that bad, they will find other jobs, and schools will suffer. The people to be angry with are the people who control the conditions in schools, not the people who are there suffering under those conditions.

    9. CatCat*

      So instead of striking for better conditions, public school teachers should… not have unions?

      How does this help? Instead of striking, teachers quit instead of being paid low wages, put in unsafe conditions, and brow beaten for how unethical they are for not wanting to personally sacrifice themselves “for the children”?

    10. Nea*

      Teachers are striking in places where there is no virtual teaching, no mask mandate, and no contract tracing. This is a health and safety issue for teachers and students, and it won’t stop being a health and safety issue with more pay.

      Giving the teachers the ability to keep themselves and their students safe via enforced masking & vaccination mandates would make a difference no money could make up for. It’s not a question of vaccinations not being enforceable; other vaccinations are required for public school. It’s not a question of adding masks to the clothing policy either; if girls can be sent home for wearing spaghetti-strap tops, students can be sent home for not wearing their masks properly.

      Or, virtual schooling is an option. It’s an option already proven to reduce spread, enhance safety, and be disability friendly.

      It’s not just a question of “unions bad/private school better.”

    11. ThatGirl*

      In a lot of cases, both teachers and students are out sick in droves, so learning is simply not happening even for those who are able to show up in person. And in cases like Chicago, the union simply wants safety measures in place for EVERYONE to be safe – it sounds like a deal has been reached there.

      But if you really want a picture of what’s going on, there was a viral reddit post from a teenager describing the learning situation at his high school — it’s pretty dire.

    12. MsSolo (UK)*

      I’m actually going to argue with your right to pee point. The closing of public bathrooms in the pandemic has left a lot of people housebound, because safe access to bathrooms is essential (especially since in a lot of places peeing in public is illegal). It disproportionately effects disabled people, caregivers of young children, and pregnant people; and we’ve all seen how well market forces respond to issues of structural ableism and sexism without legislative input. So, yeah, bathrooms on the road are also a human right – that we’ve got used to them being attached to places whose primary purpose is not to provide a bathroom is the structural issue the pandemic must force us to confront.

      1. JustaTech*

        To further the point on public bathrooms: there is a reason that “sanitation and clean water” are up there with vaccines for increasing human life span. Human waste, especially feces, is one of the worst ways that disease is spread. Like, you can see it through all of human history, you can see it today in places that don’t have adequate sanitation. And it’s not just epidemics of cholera or typhoid or polio. It’s also things like hookworm (you get that from stepping barefoot on the feces of someone infested with hookworm) and other parasites.

        Sanitation and clean water are essential to a functional city-based civilization – so public bathrooms are absolutely essential. I’m 100% fine with the idea that bathrooms should be provided by the town, city, state, whatever government and not solely by private business. But folks have to have someplace to go!

        1. pancakes*

          Exactly. The idea that “market forces” justify living in a world where people do their business in the parking lot or on the side of the road is incredibly short-sighted and crude.

      2. Jackalope*

        Yes, thank you, this. Available restrooms are necessary both for health and access to the world. You may be able to hold it in for awhile but that will not continue indefinitely (and depending on health that while might be very short). Using the side of the road is unhygienic and could make a lot of people very sick if it were to become widespread. And what are you supposed to do if you’re in a wheelchair?

    13. Omnivalent*

      “Or whatever” is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence.

      You’re okay with teachers being fired if they refuse to do in-person instruction, right? Because market forces?

    14. Emily*

      Replying to the responses here (and thank you for responding politely, I am trying to have a real debate, not troll this site, and I’m open to changing my opinion). So my perspective is that labor shortages in most areas of life that are governed by regular capitalist rule (non-essential services) are fine, in that the market can correct for them eventually by employers paying more (or going bust – if they go bust, I guess that service wasn’t really that needed by society). The problem with workers striking in vital services (education, police, fire, hospitals) is that by they time the strike is done, people could be dead or severely harmed. Yes, arguably among these, education is the ‘least’ critical, and yet as a parent I am truly horrified by how children’s needs have been neglected in this pandemic. I’m not actually blaming teachers, mind you (I’ve sent many thank-yous to teachers and large cash donations to the school – in fact in our public school, the parents fund the salary of one of the teachers because the district is so broke. We parents treat teachers very nicely, and I think it’s related to why our school has a very high teacher retention rate – and by the way, only a single covid case the entire pandemic. ). But I am saying that striking etc when you work in these essential services should not be how problems get solved, because the people you harm in that process are not your employers, but the most vulnerable people in society. There has to be another way.

      1. Emily*

        After reading the comments, I’m going to concede that striking for safety reasons is a bit different from striking for pay. And as someone pointed out, an outbreak of covid at a school will likely keep even more kids at home. The solution for Chicago was probably just to go remote, so yes, I think this was more the district’s fault than the teachers’. I might have had my perspectives skewed because in our particular school covid was handled incredibly well and we hardly had anybody get sick (but we were forced to shut down by the state rules regardless). But we are all very vaccinated including kids.
        By the way, I noticed there’s another person called Emily commenting today- so I’ve only commented on this thread, the other posts are not mine.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          You mention that there has to be another way. If you can think of another one, please feel free to suggest it. It’s not like the first action teachers take is to strike, it’s a long drawn out process where every concern is ignored until they are forced to strike.

          And striking for pay is still hugely important. Teachers are expected to do things like pay for their own supplies, do work well outside normal hours and a litany of others things for which they deserve to be more highly compensated. Or at least be paid a wage on which they can afford to live.

          1. The Original K.*

            There was a story that circulated recently about an event that had teachers on their hands and knees scrambling for dollar bills on an ice rink to buy supplies for their classrooms. It made me sick to my stomach.

          2. Tired social worker*

            Exactly. When vulnerable people suffer during a strike, the fault is not with the workers who have to use the strike as a last resort to get the accommodations necessary (INCLUDING PAY!!!) to do their jobs properly and sustainably. It’s with the systems that force them to that point. It’s a last resort, and one that I wish were available to my profession.

        2. anonymouse*

          I have to push back on the notion that teachers should tolerate low pay and that health and safety are somehow separate. I understand that you believe that you value teachers, but valuing teachers means supporting their right to protest their pay. Children and society as a whole benefit from well-paid teachers. It really comes down to supporting these strikes or accepting the fact that the best and most experienced teachers will leave for better pay elsewhere. Maybe you benefit from living in an affluent district where teachers have better salaries, but children in less affluent districts do not have these benefits, and the underfunding of schools directly contributes to systemic inequality.

        3. JustaTech*

          Respectfully, did you have a teacher die while you were a student?
          I did. My 5th grade teacher (Mrs Cripps) was dying for the whole first half of 5th grade. And then she died. And it was terrible, even though we all knew in advance, even though she told us at the beginning of the year, even though the whole school came out in support of the students. Even though it was only one teacher.

          To have a beloved (or even just liked) teacher unexpectedly die in the middle of the year is going to do a number on those student’s ability to learn. How is that better than missing a month of school?

        4. Claire*

          I mean, are you going to draft them? Incarcerate them if they try to quit? Fine them? We can’t force people to be teachers, it’s an underpaid profession facing a lot of shortages, and now those chickens are coming home to roost. I don’t think it’s congruent to say that I support workers rights except [x] class of workers.

        5. AnonBeret*

          But see – saying that teachers shouldn’t strike for better pay because it hurts students is exactly what Alison is saying not to do: placing fault with the people using their last-resort bargaining tactic and not with the system that said “no” enough times to create the need for a strike.

          You seem to be assuming that strikes happen as soon as people are unhappy. I can assure you, strikes only happen when the employers and systems in power have made the choice to neglect the teachers over and over and over and deny them fair pay over and over and over. By the time a strike happens, teachers have truly no other way to get the powers that be to finally acknowledge that the teachers have some power, too.

          So don’t be mad at teachers striking for fair pay. Be mad at the system and employers who denied fair pay to begin with.

        6. Manders*

          Something I want to clarify here is that even the teachers who seem to you like they’re striking for higher pay are asking for bigger changes than just more money for themselves. Higher wages = a better chance of getting qualified teachers, retaining the teachers who are on the verge of dropping out of the profession, and allowing teachers to do things like pay for the childcare they need so they can actually be in class.

          Many parts of the country had a big teacher shortage even before the pandemic, and now there are flat out not enough teachers willing to work for the pay on offer. Public and private schools often don’t allow teachers to negotiate their own pay, they have pay bands or pay within certain brackets for certain qualifications. So a teacher who’s on the verge of leaving the profession because they’re losing money doing it might not actually be able to negotiate their own pay with their own supervisors–organizing with other teachers to negotiate as a group and threaten to strike may be the only way they’re allowed to negotiate pay, period.

          (Also, a lot of the teacher strikes you’re hearing about are at least partially about safety. Some media outlets might focus only on the pay, but teachers are terrified for both themselves and their students right now. The situation is extremely bad in many areas.)

        7. JustaTech*

          FYI, the teachers in Chicago are not on strike, they’re being locked out by the school administration. The teachers asked (and tried) to teach remotely and were locked out of the remote classrooms by the administration. That’s not the same as a strike.

        8. Emily*

          Interesting. So my view that essential workers shouldn’t strike isn’t all that unusual in where I’m from (Europe). I think Americans have a very different point of view. But where I’m from, we also treat essential workers much better than they seem to here in the US. I am completely shocked by how poorly teachers are paid, and generally treated by some people here (but not in our school). They are much more respected in my home country.
          I learned a lot from this thread, thanks all. Again, not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings or say teachers are selfish, it was just my view on which areas should be left to ‘market forces’ and where I think public workers need to act more for the ‘common good’.

          1. LDN Layabout*

            Ummm, it would depend where in Europe you are, because there are both far greater social workforce protections for workers and strikes are a lot more normalised than in the US, across the continent as a whole.

          2. Ellie*

            I think this is an issue where the country you live in is going to heavily influence how you feel about it. I live in Australia, and for a while there, it seemed that the transport union was deliberately choosing exam week every single year for a combined bus/train strike. It was frustrating, and seemed very unfair to the poor kids who didn’t have parents who could drive them in. My grandparents still have massive arguments about the strikes in England, which goes back half a century, where the power would go out every winter without fail due to the miner’s strikes, who of course were dealing with horribly dangerous conditions themselves. Its a tricky one, but you know that the people in power are relying on essential workers like nurses and teachers, to pick up the slack for their poor planning. Its not their fault the system runs on a shoe-string.

          3. ---*

            Actually, it is totally unusual. I’m also in Europe, and public sector employees strike ALL THE TIME; it is time-honored and almost expected. Teachers, garbage collectors, health sector employees, postal services, you name it.

            And my country is by no means unusual. I think you may be misrepresenting the European political landscape.

          4. Simply the best*

            What are you doing for the common good? How little pay are you taking for the common good? How are you putting your body, your health at risk for the common good? So often I find it’s people who aren’t doing anything who are demanding that sacrifice from others.

        9. sequined histories*

          Response to the person who disapproves of the CPS teacher strike/school closure:

          Here in northern New Jersey many schools are closed because so many of the staff have recently tested positive that it is impossible to have enough adults in the school to even offer in-person instruction to the students.

          As for the horrors of teachers striking for better pay:

          1. I teach in one of the best schools in a high-poverty district similar to CPS but with a less activist union. At my “excellent” school we have long-term vacancies this year and are continually losing excellent teachers to the suburbs where the pay is higher and the teachers are hassled less. Some of the “bad” schools in my district have 20 or more long-term vacancies right now. A strike attracts more press coverage than kids just sitting there with a sub, but both situations result from not paying people what they consider a fair wage for the amount and type of work you’re asking them to do.

          2. We cannot get enough subs because the pay is quite low given that there are no benefits, no job security, and these days a perceived risk of contracting Covid. As a consequence of this shortage, each school is limited to 5 subs per day, so if you have 5 long-term vacancies, there is no coverage available at all for a teacher who is out sick on a particular day. Thus, administrators and teachers run around my school trying to cover sick teachers’ classes if more than a couple of teachers are out sick.

          The subs are unlikely to ever have a formal strike, but the impact of the fact that we don’t pay them enough is almost the same as the impact of a strike would be.

          3. Most public school teachers—and especially those in high poverty districts—pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own money every year to supply their own classrooms. When you pay us more, we actually have more money to spend on our own students.

          To sum up, I think your sense that it’s somehow unethical for teachers to strike for higher pay is based on not knowing that much about teaching and learning conditions in places like CPS.

          1. Jackalope*

            Also, subs need to be treated with more respect. There’s this idea that they’re mostly retirees wanting, I don’t know, pin money or something, and it’s not a “real” job. Maybe that was true in the past, but these days there are people whose actual job is as a sub. But it’s really hard for them to get what they need in order to be able to keep subbing. I remember hearing the frustration of a sub I know a few years ago during a teacher strike. The subs supported the strike, refused to cross the picket lines and cover for the teachers who were out, etc., but when they talked with the teachers they were told that they weren’t “real teachers”, and none of their needs were even considered. The teachers’ strike won better wages and classroom sizes and such for the full-time teachers, which was great, but they also lost a bunch of subs due to the general attitude and they haven’t managed to replace them yet. So the school districts are in a super bad place right now and that’s part of why there are so few subs.

        10. Nott the Brave*

          I’m incredibly late to this point, but I want to make sure this is said for the future.

          If it is considered unethical to leave essential positions unattended in ways that can harm society or greater good, then it is the ruling body’s purpose to make sure that those positions are given everything they need to succeed. Something that society needs in order to function should not also be one of the most underpaid, undersupported jobs that is done only for the “love” of it, because we are human beings with vast and complicated needs.

          Whether it is money for warm beds, nutritious food, or safe travel, or time to rest the mind and maintain healthy emotions, or health networks provided to allow for happy and uninterrupted living, or respect to be heard when issues arise that could result in shortage of labor or difficult work, this is NOT ON THE WORKER that they are not provided. Literally none of it is. If those things are not provided (in this case, the respect to be heard and networks to be healthy especially), then the worker is forced to pursue other avenues.

          Not a single person’s life is worth the greater good of an essential service. Not. One.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            I agree with functionally everything you’ve said here, except the last sentence. It’s slightly too absolutist.

            Lives sometimes must be expended in pursuit of providing essential services. Firefighters risk their lives battling a blaze, because the alternative is towns and cities burning down – that is an essential service, and it is absolutely one where lives can be (and have been expended). National defense, disaster recovery and mitigation, public health, transportation building – in all these situations and more, some lives will be expended. One of the burdens of public leadership and administration is having to do the calculus, and determine when that expenditure is necessary.

            These lives should never be expended callously, however. To do so is immoral, unethical, illogical, shortsighted, and just plain stupid. This is where the responsbility to provide the tools that are typically necessary to provide the service comes from. This mitigates the risks for most circumstances, and ensures that when a life is given, it is given not because of neglect, but because of necessity. But you will never be able to provide every tool, and especially not in a sufficiently timely manner that things can always be accomplished without the loss of life.

            No one should ever be compelled or tricked into to making the expenditure (regretably, we are very good at rationalizing to ourselves that we have not done either of these things, when we actively are doing them). But through choice and circumstance, some will have to expend their lives ensuring that certain services are provided. It should never be common, but that does not mean a service where some die providing it was/is not worth the cost.

            Our responsibility, as people who benefit from and rely on these services, is making sure that we minimize the costs of providing those services to the people who provide them, and that we appreciate the costs (especially the ultimate one), when they are paid. That we learn from those circumstances, and see what can be done to avoid them in the future. And that is what far too many are failing to do at the moment.

            1. TheUnknown1*

              Agreed on the points that, for those who knew and accepted the risks of those essential positions which bring workers into unsafe situations regularly, it is fair to assume that those working those roles consider their lives worth losing for the greater good.

              I just don’t want it to get lost in the fray that, even unlike nurses, as a teacher it was not known to me that my job was so essential that my regular, unprotected exposure to disease was more important than my own life. Did I know and accept that my work might impact my quality of life (free time, funds, etcetera)? Yes, and the calculation I made when taking this career accounts for that. But I didn’t sign up to be the front lines on school shootings or taking regular abuse from students and parents or exposing myself and thereby my family to COVID. I hate all the rhetoric comparing teachers to healthcare workers, police, firefighters, EMTs … we’re definitely essential, but no one gives us PPE and we have to take our work home.

              1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                Agreed. The behavior towards teachers at this point is very clearly crossing the line in to coercion of accepting mortal risks that were never clearly part of their roles (and do not need to be). Far too many communities, individuals, and leaders are abdicating their responsibilties to minimize and mitigate those risks when they are easily known and foreseen.

            2. Nott the Brave*

              Sustained, you make excellent points. I was highly incensed with the thought process going on above me, and didn’t make room for situations where such things really can be. I do think that it’s definitely a difference of personal choice of going into a dangerous field rather than having a dangerous field being thrust upon someone, though, which I believe I see you also agreeing with.

      2. ThatGirl*

        *You* might treat teachers nicely; heck, all of the parents in your district might. But I don’t think that is the case nationally. Teachers get a lot of abuse and face a lot of barriers to do their jobs well, and get paid poorly for it. If your particular district is doing well, then great! But that’s not the case nationally, and I don’t think you should criticize educators for striking when you haven’t been in their shoes.

      3. Lady Danbury*

        You’re still missing the point that when it comes to school health/safety in a global pandemic, children’s needs hugely overlap with teachers. Both need a safe place to teach/learn and that is exactly what teachers are advocating for. This need has been ignored by far too many schools/districts. Even with the challenges/disadvantages of remote learning, there’s no way that I would want any child that I care about (or any child, period) to attend in person school in the conditions that I’ve seen in far too many schools. That’s the opposite of meeting children’s needs.

        Parents teaching teachers nicely is NOT the reason why you’ve only had a single covid case. That’s simply not the way highly infectious diseases work. It would be good for you to reflect further on why that might the case and why other schools/districts are having vastly different experiences.

      4. anonymouse*

        “I am saying that striking etc when you work in these essential services should not be how problems get solved, because the people you harm in that process are not your employers, but the most vulnerable people in society.”

        Okay, so how do you think teachers can get these problems solved? Low pay, poor benefits, and lack of funding have been an issue in the education field for a while now. Striking is often the only thing that gets people to see the urgency in improving the conditions of workers. If your concern is for children, I also urge you to be concerned about how underpaying and undervaluing teachers also have dire consequences. A lot of great teachers leave the profession due to burn out. The system of relying on cheap labor for such essential services is unsustainable. If you genuinely feel that teachers provide such a vital service to vulnerable people, surely you would see why forcing them to put up with low pay and exposure to a dangerous disease is problematic. So many teachers and teachers assistants died of COVID 19. They put their lives on the line with little in return because they care about their students. The absolute bare minimum we can do as a society is support them in their demands for better conditions.

      5. Ethyl*

        “There has to be another way.”

        Ok. Like what?

        Teachers don’t strike on a whim. They’ve tried “another way” over and over and nothing has changed.

        1. Katie*

          Yes! If anyone is being unethical and depriving children of an education, it’s the other side of the bargaining table, not the striking teachers.

        2. TyphoidMary*

          Yeah, Ethyl, exactly. There is a lot of history and scholarship on labor, activisim, social movements, and what works and what doesn’t. There’s a reason that worker solidarity (which often includes unions and strikes) keeps showing up. So it’s weird to me when people get kinda pearl-clutchy about strikes.

      6. JustKnope*

        What other way, though? What avenues do teachers have for advocating for safe working environments and fair pay if not striking? I’m not being snarky, that’s a real question. If you have any other ideas, let’s hear them. The fact that you’re saying all of these professions that benefit society (firefighters, teachers etc) would cause massive harm if they walked off the job means they should be paid way more and protected at all costs, but that’s wildly far off from the reality we live in today. Teachers have been begging for safe working conditions and are now at the point of striking to get it – because they’ve tried other avenues and this is their only power right now.

      7. ---*

        Striking is a recognized fundamental civil, political right, and it is the only way to for workers to have influence in an unfair system — withhold their labor. If that labor were truly valued, it would be recognized by better pay and conditions. To say that teachers should suck it up and not strike Because Of The Children is gross. It places blame on the wrong party entirely and wholly neglects the history and systemic forces that shape capitalist labor forces.

        Being a parent doesn’t trump people’s fundamental rights (which striking is) — the *only* real tool workers possess to have their needs heeded in a capitalist system. Do you think workers get better conditions just by asking nicely? Withholding labor is a tool of last resort, and your position that rights don’t matter is deeply disturbing. Sorry, but I encourage you to rethink this.

    15. Siege*

      My need to pee in a safe and sanitary fashion is a basic human fact, actually. And, in fact, it is arguably covered under Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, you’re really advocating for a strikingly terrible position here. I hope you never end up becoming disabled, because the experience will blow. your. mind.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is my main problem with all the hiking/running trails in my area having closed the bathrooms. People still use the trails, and still need to take care of hygiene needs – so what is happening is now you have the trails needing to be cleaned of human waste, diapers, and used menstrual products instead of those things being handled in bathrooms. There hasn’t been any cost savings to the park departments in the city/county, because instead of cleaning a bathroom they’re having to clean whole trails. Even opening half of these facilities (many of which are vault-style latrines) would probably be a long term cost saving – and a basic human need is filled.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          And I’d be willing to bet that cleaning a trail of human waste, diapers, and used menstrual products is more expensive/takes more time than cleaning a restroom of those things.