My Father's Story
By an LKSOM student, shared in the voice of their father
Everyday was normal. Get up, and be at work in the early morning. Work, get everything done, and leave for my next job. Finish that job late and come home. Shower, sleep, and repeat. I also work on weekends. My family means the world to me, so I do what needs to be done.
When COVID-19 hit, everything changed. Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey said they were closing all “nonessential” businesses. The number of cases started spiking in NJ. People started worrying. In my first job, we were gonna close down, since we didn't meet the standards for being “essential”. Or so I thought. We distribute products like brochures, toys, and nonessential items. Instead, we stayed open. It didn’t make sense but we did. So, I kept coming into work.
Then, one of my coworkers got COVID-19. He’s a custodian at our company and cleans all the warehouses. He was coming to work sick and he’d been all over our facility. I was so scared. We waited for our bosses to announce that we would close the warehouse to clean it. But, nothing happened. They never said anything. It felt like a nightmare. I was getting so anxious and scared. I spoke to my coworkers, everyone felt anxiety about going to work everyday. We were afraid we might get it. I have a wife with health conditions, I have my own health issues, and we got kids at home. The supervisors told us we had two options. One, use our vacation/sick leave to stay away until things blow over, but we only have 2 weeks. Two, we can leave and file for unemployment while the government figures out how to stop this virus but we won’t have a job once it ends. So, I took the first option.
I stayed home for two weeks, using my vacation time. A few days into my vacation, I got a call from a coworker. She said another coworker, a good friend, was out sick. He was fighting a high fever, lost his sense of smell, and his body ached. All classic COVID-19 symptoms. I’ll be honest, I was scared shitless now. I bumped fists with him about a week earlier. I told my family and everyone was worried but they reassured me, it will be fine. His symptoms worsened as the days passed by. He finally managed to go to the doctor and gets tested. Took almost a week for his results to come in. Positive. Now, we had the second case at my job.
I didn’t have much vacation time left. I asked around and the company wasn’t saying anything. My anxiety was through the roof. How is this legal? I call my coworker again. She says they brought someone in to clean. I feel relieved. She says don’t be. It’s a random guy walking around spraying Lysol on some counters and wiping here and there. No professionals, no masks, no heavy cleaning gear. A random guy with a bottle of Lysol. Yep, Lysol, you heard me.
My two weeks were up, and I was to return to work the next day. Everyone was trying to calm me down. We enjoyed my wife's birthday. Everyone said a prayer the night before, hoping I would be safe. Everyone kept asking all week, why wasn’t the warehouse cleaned? The answer still hasn’t changed. Still nothing. I’m scared to touch anything, even with gloves on.
So I went back to work. Now, everyday, I wake up filled with fear and anxiety. I don’t know what to do. The people at our job are all Latino. Some of them are not citizens. We are all in this together though. They won’t speak up because they don’t want to get in trouble and get deported. I get it. Family comes first. Without money, we cannot eat.
We have to use our own masks to do the job. We aren’t doing social distancing. There are hundreds of us in a warehouse. It’s not that simple. I have my own gloves and masks. Enough to get me by. As the weeks pass, more and more people show up to work sick. And the worst part, no one is saying if they are positive. Eight coworkers went out to be tested and we never found out the results. They won’t tell us. Everything is hush hush, like a code of silence. All this for shipping brochures, catalogues, and toys. All at our expense. We could die.
Every Sunday, I get physically sick. I genuinely feel sick as my mind worries about going to work again on Monday. I have to keep it together though, for my family. I think every Sunday I should quit. Get unemployment. Walk away. But then I lose my job for good. For someone like me, it is an impossible choice. For them, the owners, the managers, it is nothing. Everyday, they make me risk my life and my families’ and all my coworkers’ lives. All for profits. They act as if nothing has changed. As if it’s just a normal day. We are just numbers and we’re expendable. Not them. Us! I don’t know how long I can last.