Essential workers keep the nation running, but is the victim rewarded?

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REVERB is a new documentary series from CBSN originals. Watch the latest episode “Lifelines in the Lockdown” in the video player above. It premiered on CBSN Sunday, April 12, at 8 p.m. ET.


With millions of Americans under Orders stay at home In the coronavirus pandemic, workers such as grocery workers, bus drivers and deliverers have become essential lifelines. Often unnoticed and undervalued from society to them now to put yourself in danger so that daily life can continue to function.

CBSN Originals spoke to a handful of these key employees, and while many were proud of their work, some must fear for their own safety and that of their families.

The grocery grocer

Jacqueline Torres was a teacher in Mexico City. Now she works in a grocery store in Los Angeles.

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“Hello, do you need help here?”

Even in such uncertain times, Jacqueline Torres had a friendly demeanor that helped customers in the cooked foods section of a Northgate Market in Los Angeles. Torres lived in Mexico City most of her life and worked as a teacher. She moved to the United States eight years ago and doesn’t speak English. Now she can easily talk to English speaking customers.

“Everything has changed for me,” she said. “I work in something completely different now, but the work is important.”

In the past, immigrants in the United States have always been a significant workforce, but they have proven particularly important in this crisis. As of 2018, 30% of California-based supermarkets and grocers were born overseas, according to the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I think we always have soldiers and people in the army who give their lives for this country,” said Torres. “I don’t feel like a soldier, but I try my best for the community, for my people who have been with me every day, and for my family too.”

The bus driver

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Vorice Lombard says he is “honored to get to work” and do his part as a bus driver in Los Angeles.

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The bus system is a crucial service for many people who are trying to get to work, especially for drivers with lower incomes. Nowadays, public transport is even more important to get key workers like health workers where they need to go.

“And now they call us disaster relief workers.” said Vorice Lombard, a 20-year-old bus driver for the Los Angeles Metro.

“It’s funny because it’s actually on the back of our ID cards. It’s called disaster relief workers. We never did that because we never had a disaster.”

In New York City, MTA employees were particularly affected by COVID-19: more than 1,500 tested positive and at least 41 died. A Bus driver in Detroit died of the disease after raising the alarm because a woman coughed openly in his bus.

But Lombard said he felt the safety precautions for drivers in LA, including the use of gloves and masks, were adequate and didn’t feel worried.

“It is an honor to get to work because I do my part in a catastrophic situation. I will do my part,” he said.

The delivery man

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Cameron supplies groceries for Uber Eats and Postmates in Los Angeles.

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As restaurants close their doors to serve customers and millions of Americans remain entrenched at home, food delivery workers are more important than ever. Cameron, a courier for Uber Eats and Postmates who asked that his last name not be used, said he was proud of his work.

“I have no doubt that I have delivered a delicious meal to someone who is fed up with what is in their closet and who has been instructed by their doctor to isolate themselves for 14 days, and I can one day a little better, “he said.

Most couriers and drivers for delivery and rideshare opportunities, including the Instacart grocery delivery app, are independent contractors. This classification allows them to control their own flexible work plans, but also disqualifies them from benefits such as minimum wage guarantees, overtime pay and health insurance.

“I enjoy the aspect of being an independent contractor,” said Cameron, “… but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be entitled to a certain number of benefits or that something should happen during work, shouldn’t be treated . ” as I would [as a full-time employee]. “

The $ 2 trillion aid package The unemployment benefit passed by Congress extends the unemployment benefit to independent contractors who normally do not have access. But there are some obstacles and gaps that can leave many without help.

The supermarket cashier

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Sandy brings her own cleaning supplies to her job in a Los Angeles grocery store and is concerned about her risk.

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Sandy, who asked that her last name not be used, held up a plastic bag of personal supplies that would take her to work in a Los Angeles grocery, including Clorox wipes, Lysol, gloves, disinfectants, and Kleenex. “It’s basically like my new wallet,” she said.

Her mask hid most of her face. She regards her workplace as a dangerous environment and is so afraid that she sometimes has difficulty breathing.

“In my job, I have no idea what I’m getting into,” she said. “I don’t know if the customers are freight forwarders or not freight forwarders or potential freight forwarders, so I’m just trying to ensure security first.”

Sandy is among a small minority of grocery store employees who are union members. A 2014 report found that unionized grocery workers earned around $ 3 more per hour than non-union workers. However, wages have remained relatively low, and Sandy believes that the risk payment offered by her employer is low at just $ 2 an hour per person and $ 3 more for overtime.

Despite her concerns, she doesn’t have the financial flexibility to stay home from work.

“Unfortunately, myself, too, many people in the food industry have to keep working to take care of their families,” she said. “To be honest, my husband is not doing very well and we are dependent on my medical services, so I have no choice. My bills have to be paid. I have no choice. I have a daughter in college and we almost pay all the costs for that. So I don’t want to let them down.