These essential workers have kept Los Angeles running

Jennifer Alcantar
Cashier, Super A Foods Grocery Store
Being here at the grocery store, we are on the front line. We’ve had customers come here, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve got COVID, but I’m fine. . . . It upsets me to think that they can’t wear their mask just to come and shop for like 20 mins, 10 mins, 5 mins, but yet I’m standing in the store for 9 hours, and having my mask on isn’t optional for me.[Photo: Sam Comen]

These images, which include workers from 15 industries and dozens of other jobs, are now on display at the Lancaster Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, California; the show will continue until August 21. More than three-quarters of those pictured are represented by Southern California unions, including United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, a major partner in coordinating interviews. As the pandemic raged, these unions were helping workers lobby for better wage and job protection. Their message was clear: “Look what’s going on,” says Comen. “They are our neighbors, our fellow Americans. And how do we treat them? [They’re] standing despite the odds of great personal risk.

Carlos Arevalo, Jason Calixto, Esbeida Refugio and Ray Miller
On-call Staff, Los Angeles County + USC Hospital
The custodians responsible for cleaning and decontaminating LAC+USC Hospital understand that their work is critically important. Jason Calixto (second from left) said: “We have a responsibility to protect not only staff, but also the company, our community and the public. We must do everything we can to protect everyone who comes to the hospital, those who visit the hospital, ourselves and our families as well. I stayed away from my extended family for 5 months. [Photo: Sam Comen]
Amado Montejo
Port of Los Angeles Trucker
I lost my brother in Guatemala to COVID on January 6th. I kept working because, you know, life goes on and you have to keep going, even if you’re not 100% mentally. I thought about going to Guatemala. I couldn’t, because I would have to self-quarantine when I arrived in Guatemala, so why was I even going there? And then when I get back, I would have to self-quarantine again. So no. [Photo: Sam Comen]
Vince Mena, Dale Smith, Kristina “Kady” Kepner and Brandon Terrazas
City of Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters
Photographed at Station 3 in downtown LA
Since Los Angeles County has a public health department but the City of Los Angeles does not, the mayor asked firefighters to help develop COVID testing sites. Kady Kepner (second from right), Deputy Chief, oversaw this initiative. She shared, “It has certainly been a challenge for all of us, as it has been for everyone. We’ve had to implement new protocols, new policies, and a whole host of new and innovative ways to continue to be able to do our job and provide exceptional customer service to the communities we serve. [Photo: Sam Comen]
Rebecca Melchor, Sandra Ceja and Karina Franco
Surgical Technologist and RN, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center
Rebecca Melchor (left) is a surgical technologist in the labor and delivery operating room at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where some of the pregnant patients tested positive for COVID. She said: “I was part of the first COVID C-section we had. It was an emergency cesarean, life or death. Sometimes you feel uncomfortable. I mean, it’s something you feel you have to do, though. Nobody else will. We cannot refuse a patient just because she has COVID. If it’s a pregnant patient, we’ll take care of her. [Photo: Sam Comen]

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