Frontline workers are tired of policing masks and vaccines - and now they're demanding government intervention

Frontline workers are tired of policing masks and vaccines - and now they're demanding government intervention
Teachers, flight attendants, and retail workers are bearing the burden of vaccine and mask rule enforcement. Anthony Behar/Reuters
  • American frontline workers are asking for better federal protections to deal with the pandemic.
  • Tired of the government's inaction in stopping COVID-19, teachers are defying state mask bans.
  • Retail workers and flight attendants want protection from violence when enforcing mask wearing.

America's workforce has borne the brunt of COVID-19's health and economic consequences for a year and a half - and now they are enforcing vaccine and mask requirements in the absence of government aid.

Florida and Texas schools are defying their governors' mask bans as the average daily hospitalizations of children with COVID-19 reach an all-time high.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools' superintendent Alberto Carvalho - who oversees the country's fourth-largest school district - publicly rejected Governor Ron DeSantis' threats to withhold paychecks of school-board members who defy his ban. "Threat-laced humiliation has not served and will not serve humanity well," Carvalho said in a tweet.

Similarly, more small business owners have decided to require customers show proof of vaccination before entering - and have been met with online backlash for the decision. Several business owners told Insider they have dealt with angry phone calls, one-star reviews, and negative emails after announcing the vaccine mandate.

As businesses and workers lead the charge to keep Americans safe from COVD-19, they are asking for more government aid. When US cities and states implemented mask mandates last year, retail workers faced physical abuse and violence when enforcing the policy.


Now, as the Delta variant spreads, workers are again bracing for violence as more cities and corporations re-instate mask requirements.

"I think having a mask mandate again will make those difficult customers elevate to new levels of rebellion and anger," an Ikea worker in California told Insider. "The first time around I was scared every time I told someone they had to wear a mask, because I wasn't sure if they would comply or if they would cuss at me and spit at me."

Tyler Hollinger, the owner of Festivál Cafe in New York City, said he felt frustrated businesses and workers must enforce the city's vaccine mandate without additional compensation.

"If the state wants private business to do the policing, then they should compensate us to do the government's job of policing," Hollinger told Insider.

In public schools, there no clear legal precedent for implementing mandatory vaccines that have not yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (like the COVID-19 vaccines). Most parents do not want schools to require a COVID vaccine yet, but 63% want them to require unvaccinated students and staff wear masks, per a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey.


Yet because of the often politicized battle over mask wearing, American workers want government intervention and better security when enforcing mandates. Flight attendants, who have been spat at and punched when trying to get passengers to put on face masks, told Insider they want better protection from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It is time to make the FAA 'zero tolerance' policy permanent, the Department of Justice to utilize existing statute to conduct criminal prosecution, and implement a series of actions proposed by our union to keep problems on the ground and respond effectively in the event of incidents," Sara Nelson, president of flight attendant's union, said.

Michael Dowling, the president and CEO of Northwell Health in New York, said while he understands Americans' reluctance to accept government interference in their lives, vaccines are a public health necessity like seatbelts.

"As much as Americans rightfully abhor government intrusion and mandates in our lives, sometimes it's the responsibility of the government to protect people from the consequences of their own poor decisions," Dowling wrote.