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Bottom Line: The bottom of the labor ladder keeps things moving during the pandemic

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 3/28/2020 9:45:01 PM
Modified: 3/28/2020 9:44:59 PM

Delivery drivers usually don’t get much respect. They sure don’t get paid well.

Neither do most workers in minimum-wage and low-wage jobs. Yet it is just those workers who are literally putting their health at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure supermarket shelves are stocked, floors are cleaned and trucks roll.

Hedge fund geniuses, Silicon Valley “disrupters,” Ivy Leaguers, grossly overpaid athletes and entertainers — enjoy your time off. This pandemic, the greatest threat our country has experienced since World War II, requires respect and admiration for those at the bottom of the labor ladder, those who work in jobs that many of us (journalists included) turn our noses up at.

Funny how the tables have turned. About time, I say.

Joy Tyo is one of those uncelebrated workers for whom we should be grateful. After all, she may be pulling up in your driveway with dinner or medicine from the pharmacy, Happy Meals from McDonald’s for cooped-up kids or even a six-pack of your favorite craft brew (because life goes on).

Tyo, a Lebanon resident, was one of the first people to become an Uber driver in the Upper Valley more than three years ago. She now manages Upper Valley Rideshare , a group of 23 Uber and Lyft drivers who help each other with shuttling riders.

But with COVID-19 forcing thousands of people to stay home so they don’t spread the virus, not a lot of customers are looking for rides these days.

So Tyo and other rideshare drivers have pivoted to delivering staples to Upper Valley households and workplaces. The work pays even less than they’d make as rideshare drivers — which isn’t going to make them rich anyway — but that’s not the point.

“I have an autoimmune disease and I probably shouldn’t be doing this,” Tyo said Thursday between lunch deliveries. “But I love my community.”

Tyo has signed up with four phone app delivery services: Instacart, Grubhub, Snackpass and Postmates, through which home- and office-bound people have meals, groceries or printer cartridges brought to their door.

You may see Tyo piloting her “stick-out blue” 2014 Jeep Sahara with license plates that spell “HYDRO” around the Upper Valley. Between Monday and Wednesday she delivered 17 meals to people’s homes that she picked up from restaurants in Hanover, Lebanon and West Lebanon.

Tyo has put 191,000 miles on her vehicle in a little over three years. Before the price of gas began to fall, it cost her $52 to fill the tank.

She said drivers in UV Rideshare gross about $23 an hour on average. Home deliveries have shot up 60% since the COVID-19 outbreak. After gas, vehicle maintenance, insurance and taxes, there’s not a lot left over.

“It’s not like, run, go do this, you’re going to make a lot of money at it” as a self-employed delivery driver, said Tyo, who owned her own salon in Lebanon and worked as an administrative assistant at Geisel School of Medicine until she realized the latent demand for a rideshare service in the area.

“There are Uber drivers who are scared (to transport people) and have turned to alternatives because they still have bills to pay. I have bills to pay,” she said.

Tyo begins her workday when she turns on her delivery and rideshare apps at 6:30 a.m. and doesn’t turn them off until 10 p.m. She acknowledges the hours are grueling but they are not as long as they might seem because she takes breaks during the day for lunch, dinner or just down time.

“The one luxury I have is that I can turn it off and on whenever I want to,” she said.

Lou’s receives donationto feed ‘front line’ workers

While I’m on the topic of the coronavirus economy and food, this is news is worth reporting: Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery in Hanover has received a $1,000 donation to prepare meals for people working on the “front lines” of the COVID-19 response in the Upper Valley.

Lou’s owner Jarett Berke declined to identify the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, but he said she hopes that publicizing her donation will lead others to do the same (note: It doesn’t have to be Lou’s).

Berke said he has reached out to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and other nonprofits about identifying essential workers and their families who are most burdened by exhausting schedules.

Berke said the money provides Lou’s with a budget for the program and he is now coming up with meal ideas, although the restaurant has already gained valuable experience over the past week in preparing to-go meals that can feed four to six people.

Berke said the definition of “front line workers” does not limit meal recipients to only those dealing directly with the disease but could also encompass nonprofit health care providers who may be handling a deluge of cases.

“If we hear of others out there doing good work, they could also be suited” to receive meals, Berke said.

Buy a burrito, help Boloco

Boloco co-founder John Pepper has never been one to hold back — he’d be the first to admit that hasn’t always made his business life easy — and last week he went public with a 4-minute and 28-second “raw” video in which he said that fallout from coronavirus was devastating the restaurant chain, which was “hours” away from closing unless they could sell more burritos and bowls.

The plea worked: Pepper reported Thursday that all four Boloco locations including Hanover “blew past” what he had hoped to achieve as orders came rolling in.

“It was really an unexpected reaction,” he said. He likened the sales to a “normal” day of business.

Even more encouraging, Pepper said, was $15,000 that Boloco raised in a GoFundMe campaign to deliver food to essential workers near the locations that are still up and running during the outbreak (there are three in Massachusetts).

That amounts to 3,000 burritos and bowls that Boloco will distribute to worthy recipients.

“We did that in 24 hours with 400 donors,” said Pepper, sounding a bit more chipper than he did a day earlier when he taped the video.

One of only 12 Certified B Corp. restaurants in the country, Boloco has adopted a wartime footing with what it calls a “Feed the Frontline” campaign by dropping everything on its menu to $5 and introducing the special menu items.

Whereas business people frequently spin happy talk, Pepper acknowledged that’s not his style.

“I felt like it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least make an honest, transparent plea that we do need help if we are going to make it through this,” he said.

Fuel saleat Thomson Fuels

He’s not quite giving it away, but almost: Stacey Thomson of Thomson Fuels in Bradford, Vt., is passing on the decline in wholesale fuel costs and slashing the retail price to levels not seen since the early 2000s to help families who are struggling financially during the pandemic.

Thomson as of late last week was selling gas at $1.75 per gallon and $1.99 for heating oil “while supplies last.”

Thomson said he’s doing about three times the normal business he usually sees at his pumps, which he opened in 2018.

“People are very happy,” Thomson said.

I bet.

I’m still open for business! Contact me at jlippman@vnews.com.




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