Shephard, 33, cleans homes for a living, focusing on spaces that are rented through Airbnb.
But as the new coronavirus spreads around the world, travel has ground nearly to a halt and the hotel, restaurant, and tourism industry is bracing for impact. It's trickled down to hourly workers like Shephard, a mother of two who lives in
Shephard is worried about paying her bills -- not to mention becoming ill while working the jobs she still has. Last weekend, a client canceled a job because someone on site had recently been quarantined upon suspicion of exposure to the virus.
"We don't have health insurance, so things are complicated, because if we go to the doctor, we have to pay cash," Shephard, a member of the
The spread of the coronavirus in the region -- and the measures being taken to keep it under control -- has just begun to create a dire situation for the 320,000 low-wage service workers that power the city's hotel, hospitality, and retail industries.
"The majority of our local is out of work right now," said
These workers -- cleaners, hotel housekeepers, cashiers at the stadiums -- make up nearly half the city's workforce, and some, like Shephard, have already seen reductions in work amid canceled events, sports league shutdowns, and a European travel ban. As local government officials scramble to devise strategies to support workers in the poorest big city in the country, hourly workers have been plunged into uncertainty, left waiting to see if they'll be called back in.
The 1,000 food service workers and cleaners at the
Hotels in the region have already seen plummeting occupancy rates as conventions, meetings, and gatherings have been canceled.
Grose said one general manager of a
"They are doing their best to make sure that their folks are taken care of," Grose said, "but there is not much they can do when you're looking at rock-bottom occupancy rates."
Thornton, 35, was told Tuesday that the hotel couldn't guarantee her any hours and she'd have to wait each morning for a call to see if there was work for her. A mother to a 6-year-old boy, Thornton wasn't sure how she was going to pay rent or utilities at her South Philly home.
"When I don't have the funding to be able to pay rent, it's like, the landlord don't wanna hear that," she said.
She plans to file for unemployment, but it will take a few weeks to get her first check.
Like many hourly workers, Thornton's health insurance is tied to how many hours she works in a six-month period: If she works a certain amount, her health care is fully paid by her employer. But with these cuts, that will be in question. It's a problem for hourly workers across the country amid the outbreak.
"Our position is, no one should lose their health insurance because of the coronavirus," he said.
The Trump administration has proposed a payroll tax cut and economic relief for hourly wage earners. Leaders in
Meanwhile, on Thursday, members of
And Councilmember Kendra Brooks introduced a resolution requesting that city agencies explore policies to protect workers, such as ensuring health-care benefits for workers throughout the pandemic, extending mandated paid sick leave, and earmarking funds for emergency cash grants. Council is expected to vote on both resolutions in a week.
Still, workers like Shephard will likely be cash-strapped. Before state officials announced the closure of all
"I earn too little to pay a babysitter," she said. "I don't know what my options would be."
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