March 21, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Essential Employee?

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“Essential Employee.” As I stand here on campus with my rake in hand, these words are in the front of my mind: What am I doing? It’s not snow season, it’s not mow season. Everyone around us is going home and being offered alternative work methods while we are out here preparing for a commencement that may not happen, for a reunion week that might be canceled.

If we are so essential, why does it also appear that we are expendable? If our health and safety are at risk why are we accepting that risk for spring clean-up tasks? Some of us feel differently. Some are less concerned than others. Those of us who are very concerned are afraid of the risks we are taking. Working alongside people who are not taking extra precautions is potentially dangerous.

Cornell has taken steps to safeguard students, professors, faculty and sports fans but have left the rest of us here to carry on as usual, as if we do not have the same burdens as the rest. We too have children at home without child care. We too are worried about getting sick and spreading it to our loved ones. Cornell could close campus and send us home, pay the ones who are alright with it the extra overtime to be available for emergencies.

Send us the message that our lives have value. Cornell can be part of the solution in this strange time or they can continue to contribute to the problem.


As of March 22, Cornell’s grounds department was told that they are not expected to report to work on Monday but, instead, to be available for emergencies. These provisions will be reassesed weekly. The grounds department will be paid and given opportunities to do remote work tasks.

Gretchen Kirchgessner is a gardener for the Cornell grounds department. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically.