Starving vs. risking the virus
March 21, 2020 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I live in an area where 50% of the population is living hand to mouth, and that's not just a figure of speech. Should I have my head contractor cancel the landscaping work his team is doing in my yard so I'm not responsible for contagion?

First of all I am at no risk here. The only people that were planned to be inside my house were my maids, and I've suspended them with pay. That would be the ideal solution here but unfortunately I can't afford to carry an entire work team for however long this is going to last.

These guys live far outside the city and commute on a series of increasingly crowded buses to get here. Virus transmission is virtually guaranteed at some point. My head contractor has told everyone they can decline to work (and not get paid) with no repercussions from him, so theoretically they have a choice. Economically I suspect they don't.

So here I am. On one hand I'm dangling an income if they'll risk their health, which seems morally wrong. On the other hand, trying to make their decisions for them is some serious Imperialist crap.

posted by Tell Me No Lies to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How was the work supposed to be billed? If there was a contract price, can you pre-pay the contract and have the work done after the COVID-19 situation eases? Or would the contractor just pocket that money and not pay his people anyway?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:17 AM on March 21, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I was watching John Campbell's daily Covid19 update just now. He mentions infection levels in South Africa, and points out that this is a country where relatively few people have the space to socially isolate themselves or the option of not being able to work without also not being able to feed themselves or their families. Unfortunately many people of the world share the same brutal reality as your landscape workers.

Those of us who have more resources and space can try our best to avoid catching or passing on the virus. Those who don't are compelled to put themselves in a position where it will be likely they will catch it - and where they have to live in hope that they and anybody they pass it to - will be resilient. As you say - I don't think you have any easy option here: I suspect if you polled your workers they would prefer to continue and be paid rather than stop. If they are out of work and have sick family members then they will have even less means to do anything about it than would otherwise be the case.
posted by rongorongo at 9:39 AM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Could you provide some sort of safe transportation for them?
posted by MountainDaisy at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You say "I can't afford to carry an entire work team for however long this is going to last". To clarify, does that mean that this was long-term work with no particular end date, or a short-term project? In the latter case, do you mean that you can't afford to pay for the project twice over (once now for them to not do the work, and again later for them to actually do it)? Or that you can't afford to pay them what you were planning to originally, plus however much it would cost for them to not go work on other people's properties?

Maybe you'll get better solutions, but it seems like at minimum you could pay them what you'd planned to pay and write it off as a financial loss (but one that's worth it). True, the landscaping work wouldn't happen, but at least from your description it doesn't sound like the work is urgent or absolutely necessary. Is that the case?

If what you meant was that you can't afford to subsidize them beyond the amount you were already contracted to pay, I would say that something is better than nothing. And that hopefully other hirers will think so too.

Ultimately, if it's landscaping versus someone's life and ability to eat, I don't think there's a question. I think you should pay them to not work and write off the loss.
posted by trig at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2020 [6 favorites]

We seem to prefer to think in terms of the individual rather than the collective. It's a public health emergency. We have to approach this crisis as a collective problem, not a series of individual choices. I live in California. My city and then my state has told everyone to stay home. They did this despite knowing that these orders would tank the economy. The reason they did it is because they're looking at Italy and now New York and they can see what's coming if they can't slow down the spread of the virus a bit.

If the contractor's workers decide to continue working and they contract the corona virus, then the consequences won't just be that they'll get sick. A family member, someone on the bus next to them, the guy at the shop down the street, probably one or two people will get the virus from them. Those people who contract the virus from worker A won't get the benefit of working during the crisis but they will get to roll the dice on getting seriously ill.

BTW, suspending the maids with pay is an act of integrity and honor.
posted by rdr at 9:57 AM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could you pay a portion of the intended amount - perhaps 75% or 50% - and have them stay home?
posted by bunderful at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2020

Best answer: If they’re not working for you (even if you pay some or all of what you otherwise would have), will they just go work for someone else and keep riding the buses?

Is there a time of day when the buses are less crowded? Maybe they could work off-hours with floodlights, or partial days?

Any chance of them camping out on your property for the duration of the job?
posted by lakeroon at 11:02 AM on March 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Can you pay them a some money now and ask them to come do the work when the world has calmed down? Assuming, of course, that the money makes it into the hands of the workers.
posted by dgeiser13 at 12:02 PM on March 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Unfortunately the head contractor (who I trust implicitly) explained the realities to me — no matter how I arranged for them to not be here they would be back on the buses the second they could find other work. Which, he mentioned, would probably be on one of his other jobs. (It’s tempting to accuse him of hypocrisy but he’s out there working side by side with them, a man of misguided integrity)

At this point it’s obvious I’m trying to control something I have no control over. I’ll salve my conscience by paying a big bonus and otherwise leave it alone.

BTW, suspending the maids with pay is an act of integrity and honor.

I’m sure the Spaniards felt most of what they did fit those categories as well, but thanks. Hopefully we’ve connected enough at this point for them to find it friendly instead of patronizing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:45 AM on March 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

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