Belabored is a labor podcast hosted by Sarah Jaffe and Michelle Chen. Belabored Stories, a new feature, will present short accounts of what workers are facing during the coronavirus pandemic. Send us your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org
On March 25, a Reddit post claiming that all Domino’s employees at a particular restaurant had gone on strike went viral on Twitter. I was unable to verify the details of that Reddit post, but I did get in touch with Brian Jeffries, a Domino’s delivery driver from Ohio County, West Virginia, who had gone on strike himself rather than work in what felt like unsafe conditions after the West Virginia governor had issued a stay-at-home order.
When the order came down, Jeffries wrote in an email, “I had just worked full shifts Saturday and Sunday (10.5 and 9 hours respectively), and I was scheduled to work again from 7:30 to 11pm that evening.” There were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in his county but several in the state and rising numbers just across the state line in Ohio—where one of his coworkers and his store manager live.
The store where he works is located near two colleges, which provide a lot of business while they’re in session, so, he said, before the pandemic, “I was making a decent income for the work required and in comparison to similar jobs in this area. But, since the pandemic, my tips/mileage reimbursement (30-40% of my income) have nosedived.”
He’s one of three drivers at the store, working with one other driver each day he’s on; one of those other drivers is an older man with health issues including respiratory problems. “I’m worried he will most likely work until he is dead. My other coworkers had their hours reduced and expressed concerns about being able to pay their bills,” Jeffries said.
When he asked the manager about wearing masks on the job, “We were told, ‘Not allowed. It makes the customers nervous.’ We have been routinely making jokes about being forced to deliver orders while wearing Domino’s branded hazmat suits.” But instead, they were given instructions for a “contactless delivery”:
In this method, we were to place a pizza box inside a Domino’s plastic bag. Then, place that on the ground in front of the customer’s door and place the customer’s order on top of that. Next, you knock on the door or ring the doorbell and retreat to a safe distance. Wait for the customer to retrieve their order, leave payment/tip, and return inside. Finally, collect payment/tip and the box in a bag and return to work. The problem with this is that 2-5 people could have contaminated any part of that customer’s order before it even leaves the store. Then, the driver is forced to collect potentially contaminated money and return it to the store where it is then mixed in with the cash register and safe drop (which goes to the bank). This will do very little to reduce infection chances even if these procedures are followed 100% of the time and I can assure you they are not.
Jeffries decided to refuse work under those conditions. “I’m not sure what I am doing can be considered a strike since I’m the only one doing it here,” he wrote. “My domestic partner and I have been following the situation carefully because our 4 year old son has mild asthma and we didn’t want to take any chances.” Being considered an essential worker under the stay-at-home order, he said, “was too much.”
“We thought we were going to lose our son when he had to be helicoptered to UPMC [University of Pittsburgh Medical Center] hours after he was born and we will do everything in our power to prevent something like that from happening again,” he wrote. “With my hours reduced and tips diminishing, we decided the income wasn’t worth the risk to our family. I typed out a message to my manager explaining the situation and our decision just a few hours after the Governor’s order.”
Initially, he explained, he planned to return to work after the threat had passed. “However, the day after I decided to self quarantine, General Strike was trending and I was hopeful more people made decisions like mine. So, I kind of inadvertently joined the strike,” he wrote.
Though, after seeing how poorly Congress has handled the situation thus far and the atrocious bailout they’re giving to corporations, I am ready to strike through the end of the pandemic and beyond. People are suffering and dying for corporate profits and it’s grotesque. America needs programs like Medicare For All and Unconditional Basic Income now more than ever.
Sarah Jaffe is a reporting fellow at the Type Media Center, the author of Necessary Trouble: American in Revolt, and the co-host of Dissent’s Belabored podcast.