© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

For Some Essential Workers, Jobs Are Still Insecure


Some Americans live in areas that are under stay-at-home orders, but they're still going to work anyway because they have essential jobs. Michael Anthony Whitehead (ph) is one of them. He's a truck driver at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. He's been going to work for weeks, but he says there's less to haul now.

MICHAEL ANTHONY WHITEHEAD: You're putting in more time, and you're getting less money. Put it that way.


Whitehead usually carries two loads a day between the country's busiest ports and San Bernardino, Calif. But as the coronavirus outbreak slowed global supply chains, cargo volume from China into those ports fell drastically.

WHITEHEAD: Now, since half of the ports are closed most of the time, you got long lines to get in and get out. So it might take you all day to just get one load.

KING: So he starts very early. He's in his truck at 4 o'clock in the morning. He gets there two hours before the port opens to sit in a line of trucks that stretches on for miles.

WHITEHEAD: And that's time you're not getting paid for. That's gas that you're burning. That's all coming out your pocket.

GREENE: Now, some companies pay truck drivers hourly. But most drivers are like Whitehead, classified as independent contractors. He gets paid by the load. He is responsible for his insurance and his gas. And he's juggling bills.

WHITEHEAD: Basically, you're living on half your income. I'm probably making half of what I was normally making, you know. You can pay this bill this week and then this bill next week, and you got to put this one off for this week. And that's a little stressful.

KING: He's 62. He lives with his father, his wife and his son. His wife is working from home. He's the only one of them going out in public to work. As a precaution, he doesn't even get his dispatches in person anymore. Instead, he calls in.

WHITEHEAD: Only time you come in contact with people is when you make a delivery or something and you go into a warehouse to get your paperwork signed or something like that. And then I wear a mask.

GREENE: Most port truckers are not unionized, but the Teamsters union is putting out resources to help them file for unemployment.

Whitehead is getting by for now. He feels healthy. He says he's not worried about getting sick at his job. But he wishes he had more work to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!