March 21, 2020 –COVID-19–Los Angeles, California
I should be grateful. I am a healthy woman in my forties, have no pre-existing conditions, am recently married and run a business that has been deemed “essential” by the City of Los Angeles and the State of California.
Yet, I am extremely stressed, angry and even a little jealous. If my business supplied health care services, if I manufactured ventilators to fill the major dearth that we face in this country and around the world, or if I were supplying food, protective gear or important information, this may not feel like such a struggle.
I run an international auto parts supply business in North Hollywood, California. It is a small business and I have ten people on my team. Unfortunately, the majority of them do not have the privilege of working from the cozy, safe home offices that most of my Ivy-league educated peers do. They have to come into the office physically everyday and stock parts in the warehouse, receive deliveries from vendors, fulfill orders and deliver parts to nearby repair shops.
My team is made up of a group of smart, hardworking, self-respecting individuals. We are very cautious regarding cleaning our workspace, keeping our distance, washing our hands, etc. In fact, we have been practicing caution for a while now. We were warned by customers and friends in places like Hong Kong who were sending us frantic WhatsApp messages asking us to please find them N95 masks. That was in January. It is now nearing the end of March and it seems like this country is just waking up to the severity of this crisis now.
Each day, my husband and I, who run the business together, read the most accurate and up-to-date information that we can find on the virus and the new rules and regulations being handed down to all of us on the regular. We meet with our team often to discuss what we discover and listen to their feedback.
Our business was hurting before COVID-19 eclipsed the world stage. The tariffs on Chinese goods and general uncertainty about the global markets resulted in a major drop in revenue.
Earlier this month, I had to lay off a trusted and loyal staff member as part of a cost-cutting strategy to save the business and my husband and I took what we hoped would be temporary pay cuts, with the hopes of saving our company. Now, we are facing COVID-19 and, strangely, it hasn’t been as lethal to our business as I expected—at least not yet.
Our local business has held steady and our international business is starting to rebound in a big way. Orders are pouring in from Japan, the UAE, Australia and Singapore.
Yet, I am faced with some of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make and the context within which I am forced to make them is a fast-moving target. Most of my team live paycheck to paycheck, and, truthfully, I am not far from that, myself. (I am lucky to have many other resources to fall back on though, which they probably do not)..
When my husband recommended that we have a gut-check meeting, where we all went around and shared our feelings about the situation, it was unanimous. Everyone felt fairly safe coming to work and no one could afford losing their paycheck or even a portion of it. (Mind you, we offer paid sick leave, people have unused vacation hours and I had researched and shared every option that we all had to supplement our incomes, if necessary.)
That was Tuesday, March 17th. Today is Saturday and it seems like I was living in a different world. On Thursday evening, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a “Safer at Home” order followed shortly thereafter by Governor Newsom’s statewide order. I looked through the orders diligently and must confess that I hoped that we would be told that we had to close. We were not.
Automotive repair shops and their suppliers are essential to the functioning of any city. It makes sense if you think about it. People, ever more wary of public transportation, need to drive to the supermarket, the pharmacy, the doctor’s office and urgent care. Ambulances, restaurant delivery drivers, police cars and vehicles fitted to transport the elderly and disabled all need to function properly, now more than ever.
Yet, somehow what we do does not seem that vital to me when I struggle with these daily decisions. At our yesterday’s meeting, we further tightened our precautionary measures instituting no-contact deliveries, closing our will call department and encouraging our delivery drivers to wear gloves and come into as little contact with customers as possible. We are doing our very best to protect each other and society and luckily, we all have a great respect for one another.
I just cannot seem to shake the question that our most pivotal longtime employees asked. I am paraphrasing. “If the government is shutting things down, why don’t they shut everything down? Why are we out here risking our health?” I do not know the answer, but I do know that out of nowhere this niche, gruff, traditionally blue-collar business is suddenly essential to the basic functioning of our city.
I hate that I have to decide between the business’s future and consequently my dedicated team members’ livelihoods and their health and safety multiple times everyday.
Who am I to make those decisions? I try and give everyone a choice everyday, but do they really have one? Do I? So for those of you complaining about changing from your day pajamas to your night pajamas, or getting bored learning to make bread or homeschooling your kids, I am personally tired of hearing about it. I am not judging or shaming. I get it. Somehow though, I wish I was in your shoes, but I am not and neither are most of the people on this planet.