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How these essential workers feel about the risks they face

Across the country, essential workers are maintaining goods and services, despite the risks posed by the pandemic. Grocery store employees, bus drivers and sanitation workers are in close contact with the public, and many say they don't have what they need to stay safe. As some workers walk out to demand better conditions, others remain on the job -- and worry. Here are four of their stories.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some grocery store employees, gig workers and delivery people were striking on this May Day.

    They protested against working conditions at Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, and Target's delivery service. They say they need more protective gear, hazard pay and time off.

    But the companies argue their policies have shifted to provide more protection, as well as wages or bonuses.

    There's no doubt these are essential workers.

    We spoke this week with our own group of workers who feel they are on their front lines. None were part of today's strike, but they raised their own serious concerns.

  • David Schaefer:

    I'm David Schaefer. I'm a retail manager at a grocery store chain in Columbus, Ohio.

  • Annette Brown:

    My name is Annette Brown. I live in Baltimore City. My job is to ensure the cleanliness and the sanitation of the hospital.

  • Andrew Bencomo:

    My name is Andrew Bencomo. I am retired, but I am working part time at — in Lowe's Home Improvement here in Las Cruces.

  • Eric Colts:

    My name is Eric Colts. And I am a Detroit Department of Transportation equipment operator, so, basically a bus driver.

  • Annette Brown:

    On an average day, I was told there might be more than 17 COVID patients coming in.

    We have to be on the front line. And for a lot of us, we feel like we have no choice but to be there. If you don't want to work, you can either quit or just take time off without pay, and don't know where any — any money is going to come from. You're taking a chance.

  • Eric Colts:

    The biggest thing that goes through my mind, in all honesty, is, I just want to — the same way that I left home, I want to come back home.

    I feel completely stressed out. And with this whole situation, once it started, I have been working from the beginning of it, to when it wasn't a pandemic, to the point where it's full-blown pandemic now. So, I haven't had an opportunity to get a mental break from it.

  • David Schaefer:

    There are times when I have, you know, two employees to take care of the entire half of the store that I cover, which is just impossible to do.

  • Andrew Bencomo:

    When you have 300 people in three or four areas, that doesn't create any distancing. So there's times where I will look down an aisle, and there's eight or nine people in the aisle, and I will not go in there.

    I look down the aisle, and I stand outside or I just walk away. And I know that's not the best customer service, but I'm not going to wade into the middle of that.

  • David Schaefer:

    And poor customer service counter people have to deal with these people yelling at them and swearing at them and just, you know, angry that they can't return whatever it is that they bought.

    We're not making a whole lot of money. It would be nice to be treated a little bit nicer, because we have no control over any of this that's happening.

  • Andrew Bencomo:

    They have bumped up pay by $2 an hour. And they have given some bonuses. And they did a lot of those things, but did not limit the traffic the way they needed to, I felt like.

    It was almost like a Band-Aid. It was almost like, well, here's all the protective equipment, here's some extra money, but we're just going to keep allowing as many people to come in as we want, or we're going to allow this crowding to happen.

  • Annette Brown:

    If I get sick, this could be the last year I ever see. Who's going to take care of my kids?

    We need essential pay. Essential pay will not only help us with our bills. It would help us put food in the house. It would help us with transportation. It would just give us that financial security if something was to happen to us or one of our loved ones, and we have to leave work to take care of them.

    If we can't do our job, the doctors, the nurses or any other kinds of staff will not be able to do their job.

  • David Schaefer:

    Knowing that I'm helping people get what they need in a time when it's kind of iffy, is there toilet paper, is there not toilet paper, it's actually — it's actually kind of nice to be in a job that I enjoy that's actually helping people.

  • Eric Colts:

    Once you're driving a certain route on a continuous basis, you will see those same people continually. And once you see him continually, it's — you become a family.

    So, that's what still motivates me to actually come to work, is because I still want to be a part of that solution. And when we come out of this pandemic, I don't want to have that thought of, well, I gave up and ran and hid while this whole thing was going on.

    I still — I want to be able to go through the fight and actually see what the other side is going to look like, once we get through all of this.

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