This is Sick Days, a series documenting how jobs are changing during the coronavirus pandemic, as told by workers themselves. This week, we hear from an audio engineer, a hotel manager, and more. If you’d like to submit a story, use this Google form and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with; read this post to learn more about the project.
Gizmodo has verified the authors’ identities, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.
Anonymous, plant safety officer, Midwest U.S.
I work in an “essential business” factory in a Trump-loving, flyover state. Weeks ago, it came up in conversation that there was some weird disease in China that had made it to New York—should we buy more of the masks we use in our respiratory protection program? I thought, sure, why not, it’s not like they’ll go bad, but I’m not sure where to store them. I popped by [the HR guy], morning coffee in hand, to get his thoughts on this. He reassures me that this disease is no worse than the flu and it’s something the Democrats have spun up in the media to make Trump look bad. While that sounds crazy to you Coastal Elite, that’s a typical answer from highly experienced management around here. I order a two-week supply of freeze-dried meals for home, reassured my significant other that I’m totally overreacting, and life plods on.
… Until it didn’t. I’m able to work from home, sort of; however, so much of running a factory requires people inspecting machines, trouble-shooting breakdowns, assessing repairs, etc. We’ve rescheduled manpower so there’s more social distancing, and while it seemed really silly at first, it’s now proving to be a brilliant idea. Factory environments aren’t made with social distancing in mind, and trouble-shooting and repair teams tend to share the same hand tools and work in small spaces. We’ve got the same economic uncertainty as any commodity, but for now, we’re still paying employees and keeping up with demand. When it’s break time or we’re visiting in the shops, the conversation always turns to the pandemic and when life will be “normal” again. I walk the factory and it doesn’t have the same busy, positive energy it typically has.
I feel incredibly lucky. We’ve reduced visitors to only government inspectors and mandatory repairs, but that still means multiple contractors from all over the US are visiting. Actually, for a personal reason, I feel even luckier. My wedding was planned around farming season but happened to hit the pandemic perfectly. I got married on a Saturday and the world shut down over Sunday and Monday. Aside from farming talk, the pandemic was a hot conversation at the wedding. My wedding photos are the last photos I have of “normal”—arms around people, hugs, kisses, close dancing.
“Normal” has a different meaning to a lot of people. I’m ready for the “normal” of hustle and bustle of a factory, the steady hum and grind of machines, and the friendly insults tossed across the shop floor. Right now, it’s just too quiet.
Seth Mitchell, broadcast sound engineer, Salt Lake City
Would we be able to get home tomorrow? That is what we were all thinking. Scores of us, worried about getting stuck in Brasilia, Brazil. I sat in a TV broadcasting truck mixing one of the weirdest events of my career: a UFC Fight with no audience. In some respects it was really cool, you could hear every little sound the fighters and their coaches made. But without the crowd, it felt flat. It was, to my knowledge, one of the last major sporting events held before the lockdown. The UFC did an amazing job dealing with the unknowns, and yes we did get home, but that was the last show I worked.
Now, a month and a half later, my normally packed schedule still sits empty for the foreseeable future. The other day I looked in my Delta App and where there are usually seven or eight flights stacked waiting for me, there was nothing. All my big shows are postponed or outright cancelled. The Olympics moved to next year, the NBA Finals, who knows. All the rest, hopefully they will be rescheduled, but many won’t.
I consider myself lucky on a couple of accounts. One, even with all my air-travel, I did not catch covid-19. And two, many of the companies that in the years past I was a freelancer for had moved me to part-time employee, so I was eligible for unemployment even before the Cares Act passed. Many in the live sound industry aren’t as lucky.
I had always thought of my industry as recession-proof. When the economy sours more people stay at home watching sports. This means more work for those of us in sports broadcasting. I never anticipated something that would literally stop the games from being played. Even as we watched the pandemic coming, I assumed we would just have the events without the fans.
This unplanned break has given me more time with my family than I could ever have asked for. I was joking with my wife that we have never spent this much time together in our 20 years of marriage. When we reflected on it, turns out it’s true. It’s been fun working on homework and projects with my kids, but the specter of not working sits heavily on my shoulders.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been trying to stay productive. Watching online seminars, working on certifications that may help in the future. My 3D printer has been going 24 hours a day for the last month, printing mask-retainers (to prevent ear-fatigue) for the hospital my brother runs in California. I hope when I look back, I can say I made good use of my time.
But, I’d really rather be sitting in a TV truck somewhere, mixing some game or event. I want to work, I love to work, I am one of the lucky ones who likes my job.
Really I love it.
And I miss it.
I can’t wait to get back on the air.
Anonymous, hotel manager, Southeast U.S.
I’m a hotel manager in a town where our busy season goes from April to October. Since last week, we’ve been operating at 6-to-12-per cent occupancy. For reference, the few weeks before that we probably were at 60 to 70-per cent, average. Daily cancellations received for April reservations have totaled in the tens of thousands. Tonight we have seven rooms occupied.
This is also a college town, and the university just cancelled 2020 graduation exercises. So our budgeted revenue for May took what was essentially a $US230,000 ($351,601) hit, for one weekend in May, with that announcement.
Two other hotels in town have closed indefinitely as of this week. We were told that we would be closing for 30 days by our management company, however as soon as ownership got word of that, they told us under no circumstances are we allowed to close. So we are open and operating at a daily loss.
The guests who are staying with us are grateful we’re here and we’re open. We’re within walking distance from the area’s largest hospital so we’ve had a few guests come in for that purpose. Word is we might soon get some business from the nurses and doctors that are essentially living at work.
We’re operating with a skeleton crew. The entirety of our hourly staff (around 40 people), besides the supervisors, has been furloughed. Supervisors will be the next to have their hours reduced to zero if things keep going this way.
I worked my way up through the hourly ranks, so it feels really, really shitty to have to tell my awesome team that they need to file for unemployment.
I’m grateful to have my job, as my wife teaches preschool and she’s out of work for who knows how long. If they close the hotel, I don’t know what will happen. I’m salaried, but if these social distancing policies really affect our day-to-day lives and travel for 12 to 18 months, this job may not exist by the end of the pandemic.
Carlos Vega, Uber driver, Texas
Since submitting this story, Carlos has since had to move back in with his family
I am a recent graduate of the Academy of Art University and am a seven year Coast Guard veteran.
Since graduating last year in May, I’ve run into a string of bad luck based on my risky decision of moving to LA to pursue my dream of working in animation. I came with $US20,000 ($30,574) and over the span of a few months my savings drained away as I tried to find work.
This eventually lead to me living off credit with the intention that I was going to get a job and pay it off. That job never came. My credit got maxed out, my savings was drained. Starting from 2020, I worked as a full time Uber driver: 12 hours a day, 6 days week.
I kept my spirits up and got enough to pay the bills. At one point, I got in a car wreck, but thankfully, insurance and my family was there to help in the two weeks I didn’t have a car. Eventually, I got a job through a staffing agency as a temp in a commercial real estate investment firm. They paid a little less than my time at Uber, but it was enough to offset my driving. Two weeks ago I contracted influenza A. It took a week for me to recover. Once I got better, I had a lingering dry cough that wouldn’t go away. This led to me being told to stay home due to the coronavirus scare.
My company more recently has gone to work-from-home, and my status as a temp has temporarily put me out of work. I can’t make money off Uber anymore since no one is riding. I’ve been selling commissions and making art for whoever l can. After stockpiling some food, I’m down to $US120 ($183).
My girlfriend who lives with me works at Target in the tech department, and she has been getting more work than ever, about 35 hours a week so far.
My main concern right now is the inability to pay for my car, the car insurance, and my rent. Surprisingly enough, I’m still getting 8 calls a day from debt collectors. It’s been overwhelming seeing my credit crumble after having a spotless 12-year history of no missed payments and a 700+ credit score.
Steve, grant funder, Minnesota
As a grant funder of artists and small local arts organisations, we’ve been scrambling to find ways to assist our arts community as many people within it are part-time or gig workers. When venues began cancelling performances and galleries cancelled shows, that meant that local artist were going to be scrambling to pay the bills. For local groups (bands, troupes, etc.), cancelling a season could mean life or death from a monetary perspective.
We are continuing our current open round of grant applications but closing further application rounds and transferring those funds into new programs to fund those impacted by covid-19 related cancellations and postponements. This has compacted what is normally a months-long process of grant program creation into a week.
Our concerns here are for our artists and organisations. Our funding is limited in how it can be spent due to its sources (mainly the state of Minnesota) so we have had to be creative in what our new program can fund. What artists and organisations need now is ready cash, not having to jump through hoops. We’re hoping to get clearance to loosen the requirements, but due to other issues at the state level, we’ve been left with becoming creative with our other limited sources of money. Many artists are going to be debating paying the rent or paying for food.