The death - and job - of every worker should be important to us... (UPDATED)

Gotta admit it. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when initial reports said everybody had safely gotten out of the fire that destroyed the QVC distribution facility in Rocky Mount.

It was, of course, going to be bad for the company. Insurance and our insatiable desire to order stuff from the comfort of our couches, however, would make the company whole before long, and those conveyor belts and trucks laden with all sorts of electronic manna from heaven or China would be rolling again soon.


And sure, the immediate aftermath would be even worse for the people who lost their jobs and the paychecks they counted on to get them from one week to the next, from one day to the next.

Even they, though, would still have a chance to find another job.


It wasn’t until the day after the fire, when the company had to come back and say, essentially, “Oops, we forgot somebody,” that my heart was rent in two.

That somebody who was unaccounted for was Kevon Ricks, a 21-year-old Rocky Mount man who’d been working there for three weeks. He was the lone fatality of the fire.

I didn’t know Kevon, and efforts to reach his survivors were unsuccessful, so I was unable to find out anything about him – his hopes, dreams, hobbies. In a photo shown on the TV news, he beamed with fatherly pride as his one-year-old son, dressed just like him, sat on his knee. That’s all I knew about him, but to me, that was enough to make me hurt for his family and loved ones.


No, I didn’t know Kevon Ricks, but I know hundreds of young men just like him, men trying to get a toehold in the workforce at any level so they can take care of themselves and their families and, they hope, move on up the ladder.

Their most immediate goal, though, is getting that elusive first j-o-b.


A couple of years ago, when I was loading and unloading trucks, scanning packages and making sure the conveyor belts kept conveying at a company even bigger than QVC, I worked briefly beside two young dudes who appeared to be in their late teens, possibly early 20s - about Kevon’s age.

During one of their typically animated and entertaining discussions, they were trying to decide – I swear – what color Lamborghinis they were going to buy when they became flush.

At the time they were making, as was everyone else there, $15 an hour, which went up to $18 for “hazard pay.” (The hazard, apparently and unbeknownst to the CDC and us, must have dissipated - because the hazard pay certainly did after a few months.)


I smiled, but didn’t laugh, at their grand dreams.

You see, that’s the thing about people working the jobs many of us look down upon or swear “I couldn’t do that.” They have dreams the same as you, and their contributions – whether you want to admit it or not - are often just as essential as yours in making America America.

President Calvin Coolidge didn’t talk much. That is why he was known as Silent Cal. But he did say “The business of America is business.”

It is, and every job has inherent dignity, worth and importance.

That person making your sammitch at the deli, washing your car, delivering your package?

If you view them as “unskilled laborers,” let’s see you do what they do.

Trust me: I discovered that driving one of those forklifts isn’t as easy as it looks on TV, and the next time I come to the place on the resume that asks if I can drive one, I’m going to tell the truth.


There is no reason to think QVC officials – who recently announced they were extending shutdown pay for its displaced workers until Feb. 1 - were being malicious when they prematurely announced that everyone had gotten out alive.


But just because they meant no harm doesn’t mean no harm was done.


Imagine reading that everything was cool, everybody was out safe, and then realizing that your brother, your uncle, you nephew was still missing, still unaccounted for.

Heartbreaking in the extreme.


I’d bet my hazard pay, though, that had Kevon Ricks been a supervisor or one of those managers at QVC pulling down the big bucks and not just another cog in the wheel – a contract employee, they often call them - his absence would not have gone unnoticed, nor would he have been a footnote at the bottom of a story in the local newspaper:

The fire also claimed the life of Kevon Ricks, 21, who had been part of a roughly 300-person workforce on duty at the time the blaze broke out.


That local newspaper reported recently that QVC will be closing and ceasing all operations at its Rocky Mount Distribution Center and laying off more than 1,900 employees. A spokesperson for QVC said no decision has yet been made on whether the distribution center will re-open.

If it does, you can bet that hundreds of people looking to get a toehold on upward mobility will be applying for whatever entry-level job they can get to take care of their families.

Some will even be dreaming of what color Lamborghini they’re going to buy when they get flush.

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Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  

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Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 

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