Nathan Tetreault thought he was infected by the coronavirus, but he had to get back to work in the produce department of the Winn-Dixie supermarket in Pensacola, Florida.
In the three weeks he was off work sick, he wasn’t paid a penny.
“I feel like my lungs are very heavy,” Tetreault, 38, said in an interview earlier this month. “My wife’s having pretty much the same symptoms as I am. We feel like we’ve got those little lead blankets from the dentist’s just sitting on our lungs.”
Tetreault hasn’t been able to get tested for the virus. He’s not in a high-risk group, and while his symptoms were crippling, sending him to bed for much of the day, neither he nor his wife had a high fever, a key prerequisite to getting access to a COVID-19 test in Alabama, where Tetreault lives, just across the state line from Pensacola.
Tetreault’s wife, Rebecca, gets a disability check for $3,000 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rent and bills are $2,600. Without Nathan’s paycheck, the family has been down to $400 for everything else: medicine, doctor’s visits, clothing and, of course, groceries. Their family includes two growing teenagers, who eat a lot.
“You’ve gotta get creative with it,” he said. “You spend $14 on a whole turkey, boil it down, and it’ll last you close to a week if you eat every little bit of it.”
Because, according to Tetreault, he typically worked around 35 hours a week, he wasn’t eligible for Winn-Dixie’s medical benefits or paid time off. He wanted to work more, he said, but he believes the company kept him as a part-time employee so it wouldn’t have to pay him benefits.
As Tetreault sees it, the pandemic is putting capitalism on trial, and the financial reality of workers such as grocery clerks is a damning piece of evidence. “This is supposed to be the richest and greatest country in the world,” he said. “Right now, I really don’t feel that way.”