Agents of Impact | April 3, 2020

Essential workers

The team at


ImpactAlpha, April 3They are the ones who are going to get us through this. Not the bankers and CEOs, hedge fund managers nor even impact investors. Essential workers are the ones who are *not* working at home because they are, well, essential – ostensibly meaning valuable, not expendable.

Workers rose up across the country this week. “This is a cry for help,” said Amazon employee, Christian Smalls, who organized a walk-out of Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse to demand the company sanitize it after at least two workers tested positive for COVID-19. Just as no investor likes to take uncompensated risk, neither should workers. Smalls was fired. Employees of Amazon-owned Whole Foods staged a sick-out, demanding paid leave for self-quarantines, free COVID testing, and hazard pay. Bus drivers, garbage collectors, poultry workers and Instacart employees also walked out. Nurses at HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest hospital chain, protested the lack of protection.

ImpactAlpha has recognized frontline health workers as Agents of Impact. So too are warehouse and retail clerks, delivery drivers and plant workers, farm hands and caregivers, COVID-19 has exposed the overlooked, underpaid workforce that keeps the economic wheels turning and lets the well-off virtually shelter in place. The full list of essential workers is here. “The working and the poor are more exposed,” said Ipsos pollster Cliff Young, who found nearly half of upper-middle employees were working at home, versus just 3% of workers in the lowest-income group.

Near Bakersfield, Calif., migrant farmworkers who don’t carry immigration documents do carry letters from their employer declaring them “critical to the food supply chain,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. “It’s like suddenly they realized we are here contributing,” Nancy Silva, an immigrant from Mexico, told The New York Times. In Massachusetts, union members asked GE to retool plants to make much-needed ventilators, rather than shut down.

Each of our stakeholders is essential,” CEOs declared last summer in redefining the purpose of a corporation. “Investing in our employees,” they went on, “starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits.” Now would be the time for CEOs to come through on their commitment to “deliver value” for essential workers and other stakeholders, as they said, “for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”