New York, NY – Doug Washington, 42, is a private sanitation worker with Local 813 who has been on the job for 18 years. He contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic and was out of work for several months. LaborPress spoke with him about his work and his experience battling the virus.
DW: I’m born and raised in Brooklyn and live in Queens now. I got into this industry through my brother. I work mostly in Queens, but I can be in different boroughs sometimes. My shift starts at six in the morning and goes to two or three p.m.
LP: What was your experience with COVID-19?
DW: I came down with it in March, on the 20th. My fiancé said,‘you feel hot.’ I woke up one morning to go to work and couldn’t clear my nasal passages and immediately sent my fiancé and son [to stay elsewhere]. After that, I got really sick. For two days I was too sick to get myself checked out. Then I got tested and immediately quarantined myself. But it took about one-and-a-half weeks to get the test results back, and sure enough — I had COVID.
DW: I didn’t see my fiancé and son for a few months. My symptoms lasted about two-and-a-half months. After about three weeks or so, my fever was done but I had all the other symptoms — including that I couldn’t taste or smell.
LP: How do you think you got it? Was it job-related?
DW: I took it for granted [that I was safe] in the early stages, around February. Then around two weeks before I got sick, I took precautions with the mask, gloves, PPE [Personal Protective Equipment]. My fiancé is a nurse, so she was on me [to be safe].
LP: Did you get sick pay? How did you survive?
DW: It was pretty rough. I lived off of vacation pay at first. Then I got mandatory sick pay and a little bit of disability. So I was able to manage.
LP: What about hazard pay?
LP: When did you go back to work?
DW: On July 6th.
LP: Are you afraid of getting it again?
DW: I was in the beginning, but told myself I can’t live in fear. Once I live in fear I won’t be able to function. So I had to get over that. But yes, [I’m still a bit afraid of] maybe getting it again and not knowing how serious it could be.
LP: What about your fiancé and son, did they get sick?
DW: No, they haven’t gotten it.
LP: Did the union help you during the time you were sick?
DW: Yes, they definitely have been by my side.
Local 813 is one of the most diverse locals in the country. The union represents hard working employees in the private sanitation industry, the funeral industry, the demolition industry, the rental car industry, the paper and corrugated industry, and the factory and warehouse industry.