The Other Front-Line Workers – The New York Times

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Amid all the bleak news about the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to remember that there are so many heroes in America right now.

Of course, there are the E.R. doctors, the I.C.U. nurses and all the health care workers who are on the front lines at hospitals, some of which are in “apocalyptic” condition.

But there are other, less heralded heroes. The orderlies changing the sheets in the hospitals. The workers stocking shelves and making deliveries. Home health aides, cleaners, child care providers, security guards, postal workers, garbage collectors — all these people risk their health to keep America fed, protected and cared for.

The national politics reporter Jennifer Medina brings us the story of one of them: Ezzie Dominguez, a mother of two in Denver, who is a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an association for nannies, caregivers and house cleaners.

For years, Ms. Dominguez, 38, has worked as a nanny and cleaned houses around the city. A few weeks ago, the family she has been working for told her to stop coming but did not offer to pay her. Her husband lost his jobs as a cook and a janitor around the same time and cannot collect unemployment benefits because he is an undocumented immigrant.

Families like Ms. Dominguez’s are some of the most economically vulnerable in the country. She considers herself lucky because she still has a part-time job at a small nonprofit, which gives the family health insurance. But it’s not enough, she said, to pay for diapers for her 2-year-old son and food for her 15-year-old, “who eats like a horse.”

So for now, she is working for a subcontractor cleaning offices and hospitals at night. Here is Jenny’s conversation with Ms. Dominguez about what her life is like now. (As usual, it has been edited and condensed.)

Tell us about your work right now. What are you doing?

MS. DOMINGUEZ We’ve been going in to clean and sanitize buildings that are essential to support the public. We’re like on-scene little soldiers, going in, scrubbing down and then disappearing, mostly staying invisible. People don’t even understand how it happens and we’re exposing ourselves and risking our lives. But I have no choice — we lost more than half of our income. My income is the only one, for who knows how long. I have to do something.

There’s a shortage of cleaning personnel who have experience with pathogens, so as long as I am healthy I will do this. We get a message every night saying they have a building and need a certain number of people. It’s mostly hospitals. We are paid $10 an hour in cash, and you get paid as soon as you’re done.

How concerned are you about getting sick because you are working in these public buildings?

I am terrified, because I am in cancer remission. Every day they check our temperatures, but we are still risking a lot. And we are risking a lot for our families. When I get home, I have a little room I enter, I get down to my underwear and bra, washing everything separately. Then I jump in the shower immediately. I think I started to irritate my skin because how much I am scrubbing and using disinfectant. My hands are starting to crack.

Then I kind of hunker on my corner of the bed and stay there, because I am still afraid of touching my husband. I sleep for a couple of hours and then get up to start my job at the nonprofit. Normally I do a lot of organizing; right now I sort mail and donations and deal with any deliveries. I took the job five months ago and I am grateful I have it.

My husband had been working at the same place for 20 years before he was laid off. And he cannot apply for unemployment because he is undocumented. I really panicked when he lost his job, which is why I am doing the cleaning. We’re not in a space where I can say no to anything. You clean as fast as you can and get out of there.

Are you given any kind of protective gear when you clean?

No, and at first I didn’t even realize that we were going to clean hospitals. The calls just started coming and you just reply to say you want to work. They didn’t say they were going to give us anything special. They gave us two gloves and two little aprons and whatever cleaning supplies. A lot of times they don’t tell you what chemicals they are using, and that worries me, too. They get upset at me because they say I ask a lot of questions.

How did the family you had been working for tell you they no longer wanted you to come?

I have been working for them for two years. It’s a divorced couple and I am kind of like a secondary mom for the children. They have special needs and the father needs the help at his home. They just said they didn’t want me to come anymore and that they would call me when I can come back. Then they told me they could not contribute anything to me while I am not coming.

What do you wish people understood about your work right now?

It’s a huge sacrifice. I know I can die if we are exposed, but we are also going to die if we don’t have basic needs. We need the stability of an earned income no matter what. We should not be invisible, but we are all humans, too. We have families and we should be able to have sick leave, so that we can stay home and take care of them. We should not have to choose between working and living.

I want Congress to include us, to give us help, too. A crisis is not the time we should say, you need to have documents to have the basic necessities. We should not be excluded from everything. The system is so broken and does not include people like us, even when we are called essential.

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We’ll try to answer it. Have a comment? We’re all ears. Email us at [email protected].


Times Opinion has been concentrating on the perspectives of many people directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic — emergency medical workers, infected patients, grocery store clerks and local officials. But we’ve also been keeping tabs on the political ramifications of the crisis.

Last week, in the Debatable newsletter (which you can sign up for here), Spencer Bokat-Lindell covered the mixed reception for Congress’s $2 trillion relief package among economists, commentators and elected representatives. In an interesting convergence, Representative Justin Amash, a libertarian, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist, had similar criticisms of the measure.

The package is “a raw deal for the people,” Mr. Amash argued. “It does far too little for those who need the most help, while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare.”

This week, Thomas Edsall, a longtime contributing writer, explored the likelihood that “the coronavirus crisis will determine whether Trump is a one-term president.” He talked to pollsters and noted a revealing Pew Research survey that showed “significantly higher percentages of young people, minorities, low-wage earners and Democrats reported adverse impacts on their households” — defined as someone losing a job or pay as a result of Covid-19 — “than did older, white, high-income Republican respondents.”

In an interview with Mr. Edsall, Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, predicted that “there will be lots of blame to go around” and “that blame will almost certainly fuel even more partisan politics.”

— Talmon Joseph Smith


The new Peloton moms? N.F.L., N.B.A. and P.G.A. players embrace the bike.


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