At the outset of the pandemic, working people who have long been overlooked and undervalued in America’s economic system were suddenly considered “essential,” and met with applause and national pressure to keep working while the rest of the country stayed safely at home. These are the factory and agricultural workers, delivery drivers and grocery store clerks, restaurant employees and first responders who have always kept society running.

And yet, these same working people do not have the basic protections or bargaining power in their companies and sectors to voice concerns about their working conditions. They want—and deserve—wages that would allow a decent standard of living, access to benefits, paid leave, and health care. Too many have been forced to work without access to childcare and, in too many cases, left to work without safe, healthy working conditions. When the voices and needs of workers are valued, companies and the economy will run more efficiently. Case in point: Health Affairs recently shared a study of how healthcare worker unions working with 355 nursing homes in New York contributed to a 30 percent relative decrease in the COVID-19 mortality rate compared with facilities without unions.

While over the last few months we’ve seen more focus on the needs of working people, millions have experienced unemployment and deepening poverty. With the nation starting to reopen, many fear we will build back, but not better, and the voices, contributions and needs of essential workers will once again be ignored.

Always Essential is a campaign formed to turn this moment of crisis into a moment of opportunity for working people, and bring national attention to the people who keep the country running.

Always Essential is working people, activists, and organizations joining together to transform what’s possible for essential workers, especially those in low-wage sectors who are disproportionately Black and other people of color. Supported by Ford, the campaign works at every level—from cities to states to the federal level—to make the workplace more democratic and fight for better pay and working conditions for essential workers.

Read the full article about essential workers by José García at Ford Foundation.