Miami’s mostly Latino delivery workers worry about coronavirus surge

MIAMI – Noel Guillermo, 47, an Instacart delivery worker, is unhappy with what he’s seeing as Florida grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases.

“I am extremely concerned about the exposure,” he said. “All the supermarkets are super tight. There are perhaps 70 other people there. And here in Miami, there are tons of people who don’t take it very seriously, many people just ignore the rules and don’t wear their masks or gloves. “

“Even when I go to restaurants, there are a lot of people who don’t wear protective gear,” said Guillermo.

Florida is one of several states experiencing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases. After several days of record numbers of new cases, the state’s total number of cases as of Monday is more than 146,000, according to the Florida Department of Health.

As demand for deliveries has increased, a predominantly Latino and immigrant workforce has been working on the front lines of the pandemic to provide food, groceries, and medications to people in the home.

Guillermo, who made a living driving for Uber before the pandemic, said he felt he had to choose between losing his income or risking his health for work. With millions of people out of work due to pandemic closings and Florida’s unemployment rate at 14.5 percent, many feel they have no choice.

“Normally, I’m a preschool teacher and I’m a babysitter during summers,” said Carolina Calderón, 53. “But in the pandemic, there are no options to get a job. So I thought I needed to drive for Uber Eats. “

“But the risk terrifies me,” he said.

Nestor Guevara, 46, drives for Uber and Amazon Fresh.

“If you want to earn a living, you have to go to work, no matter what happens,” he said. “This is how this country works.”

“These big companies we work for could do more for drivers like us,” added Guevara. “I work every day for them. I never stop. I wish they would do more to help us.”

Nestor Guevara’s trunk is full of packages to deliver from Amazon and Whole Foods.Julia Logue / for NBC News

Timothy Carter, Amazon’s public relations manager, noted the company’s efforts to keep its employees safe.

“We are investing more than $ 800 million in the first half of this year in safety measures such as temperature controls, masks, improved cleaning, gloves and testing, to name a few,” he said.

In an email to NBC News, Carly DeBeikes, a representative for Uber’s Safety Communications Department, said the company has been supplying drivers with masks and cleaning products since April. “Our focus has been the cities with the greatest need, providing supplies to the most active drivers,” he said.

Guevara’s cousin, Eleazar Guevara, said he contracted COVID-19 from the start. Since I was an Amazon Fresh contractor and I was infected, I applied for their help program and got $ 2,000. That helped, but it wasn’t the same as working for a month, for 31 days, I couldn’t leave my room. “

Eleazar, 40, left Venezuela two years ago after a 17-year career in business and politics. He sought asylum, alleging government persecution, and was approved; You are now in the process of applying for permanent residence.

“The arc of everything has been a little difficult,” he said. “I came as an immigrant with training and professional experience; it’s hard to come up with all this knowledge and not be able to use it. “He has had to socially distance himself from his family to keep them healthy, which he says is very difficult.

Her story is common among delivery workers in Miami, who turn to a largely immigrant workforce.

Increased competition

As people in other industries lose their jobs, delivery workers face increased competition from an increasing number of drivers.

“All the restaurants, studios, fitness venues, everything closed their doors, and all of these people also needed to make money,” Nestor said. “So even though there was a massive increase in demand [for delivery], there was a massive increase in drivers. “

“In the past few weeks, so many people have joined the platform that it is almost impossible to get deliveries,” said Guillermo. “Instacart started paying really well, but now it totally depends on how many jobs you can find.”

Despite the increased competition, Eleazar said the silver lining is that there are grateful customers who are thanking with their pockets.

“In an average delivery job, I’m making twice as much as before because people pay a lot in tips,” he said. “People are really making an effort, especially now. I think they realize the risk we are putting ourselves in. “

Although delivery workers are concerned that the state is seeing coronavirus cases rise, Eleazar says he is also proud of what he does.

“We are part of the front line: we help keep restaurants in business, we help keep supermarket sales high and we help keep people in their homes where they feel safe,” he said. “And at the end of the day, I count the number of deliveries I made, and I think, ‘OK, I delivered 45 packages to 45 houses today. I made 45 people feel safe. ‘ And I feel great about it. “

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