New York, NY – Teamsters Local 812 member John Vargas, 46, has been on the job for more than a decade. He works as a deliveryman for Union Beer in Secaucus, New Jersey. He’s also been a shop steward for about six years.
Raise a glass to Teamsters Local 812 Shop Steward John Vargas.
Vargas works mainly in the South area of Brooklyn, which includes areas such as Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay. His shift is punishing. It begins at 5 a.m., and ends a little before 5 p.m., but he works for four days and has three days off. His commute is difficult – he lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Every working day, Vargas drives first from his home to Union Beer, then to Brooklyn for his delivery route – repeating the cycle in reverse on his way home.
LaborPress spoke with Vargas to find out about what it’s been like for him working on the front lines of delivery during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
LP: Were you working during the whole pandemic, and are you working now?
JV: At the end of April there was a voluntary lay-off. I volunteered to take off for three months and collected unemployment. I was a little nervous [about working] because I have an underlying condition – asthma. When it was peaking in New York, if I had contracted the virus, I would have been in trouble. But it worked out because with unemployment and the extra government assistance it came out to about the same as I was making.
LP: Did you have PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – when you were working?
JV: Yes, we always had it. We got masks, gloves, hand sanitizer. We wiped down the trucks every morning. We still do that now. It was provided to us by Union Beer; it was not coming out of our pockets.
John Vargas and Teamsters Local 812 — delivering for you.
LP: Did the union help out in any special way?
JV: They always sent out updating CDC guidelines. We had Zoom meetings. In my work as a shop steward I also forwarded updates. Medical was extended if necessary, free testing was approved.
LP: Are you currently worried about getting COVID-19?
JV: Of course, but it’s not as serious as it was before. Then it was 10,000 cases a day. Now the infection rate is .69%, I believe. Now, I still wipe down the truck, any money, and when I go into a business. I have a family at home [to think about].
Local 812 represents more than 4,000 Teamster families working in the beverage industry. Its members produce, haul, deliver, merchandise and sell soda, water, beer and sports drinks throughout the New York Metropolitan area.