Corona Culture: For Essential Workers, Harassment is Part of the Job

Sadie Basila, Managing Forum Editor

“I need my food off the floor,” she screams out of a crack in her front door. I sigh. 

The pizza delivery company I worked for during winter break has added tiny cardboard platforms to place orders on. This way, we can place food on the ground and step back, and we don’t have to hand an order to a customer, risking exposure. These cardboard platforms, along with masks and constant sanitizing, were our COVID-19 prevention policy. 

I told her as much, but she did not seem convinced. She asked how she would give me cash if I couldn’t come closer to her, and I explained she could leave it on the cardboard box. Door now fully open, she takes a step outside and then says, “Well, I can’t go outside. So I am not paying unless you hand it to me.” 

So, after several minutes of her calling me lazy and stupid, I threw in the towel and picked it up and handed it to her, taking the cash from her hand. She slammed the door in my face and called me a bitch, but on the bright side, she was too angry to wait for her change. I had a 50 cent tip now, which was actually the highest tip I received that hour. 

On my way back to the car, which keeps making weird sounds and has over 100,000 miles on it, a man walks up to me on the sidewalk. He tells me I am pretty, “even though you can only see the eyes.” I smile and keep walking silently. Then he tells me he’s always wanted to have sex with a pizza delivery girl. 

This is a typical run. Working during the pandemic as an “essential worker” (who makes $4.50 per hour on the road), you get to see nice television PSAs where people applaud you, and the occasional kind customer who tells you how much they appreciate the risk you’re taking. Sometimes you even get a generous tip. 

However, it will not escape your view that the most stiffs (zero dollar tips) come from the richest neighborhoods, that many customers are super likely to hate you, and that all your coworkers have at least two jobs and drink three energy drinks a day. The occasional generous tip does not keep you safe at midnight delivering to drunk men in the dark. 

So many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Doctors and nurses have lost their lives or their time with their families. Far be it from me to whine about being employed. 

Though sometimes I do whine, particularly about being sexually objectified, and I hear from friends that I am complaining about being desired, about being praised. This interpretation could not be further from the truth. When a guy offers me a bigger tip to “come inside and hang out,” the feeling I get could not be further from the feeling I get when a friend comments heart eyes on my selfie. This is not praise. 

I know this because when I take off my uniform and put on a different mask to go pick up dinner or go to the grocery store, nobody says anything to me. Occasionally, maybe at night, a few men will say creepy stuff. However, I’ve only ever been offered money for sex while wearing that uniform. I’ve only ever been threatened by a man with a gun in his holster while wearing that uniform. Something tells me I am not uglier out of it. I am simply more respected. This is not praise. This is disrespect. 

Even wearing a mask and a hat, there will always be people who harass women, because catcalling has nothing to do with being pretty. Additionally, it seems there will always be even more people who harass working women. Whether it’s a grown woman screaming at you for refusing to get within six feet of her, or a man old enough to be your grandfather refusing to pay until you give him your number, people make it clear that they don’t exactly view you as equal. You are at work, and you can’t do anything about their actions.

A minimum wage job makes you an emotional and sexual punching bag, and the pandemic seems to only have worsened this. People are lonely, angry, and tired. But I implore you to not take out those feelings on delivery people. Even if they seem a little grumpy to you, keep in mind the sorts of shifts they are probably having, and how many have come to rely on them in the pandemic. 

Most importantly, tip.