These Essential Workers Keep Los Angeles Running

Jennifer Alcantara
Cashier, Super A Foods Supermarket
Because we’re here at the grocery store, we’re on the front lines. We’ve had clients come in here, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I have COVID, but I’m fine.’ † † † It upsets me thinking they can’t wear their mask to come shopping for 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, yet I’m in the store for 9 hours and my mask is not optional for me.[Photo: Sam Comen]

Those 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 run through August 21. More than three-quarters of the people photographed are represented by unions in Southern California, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, a key partner in coordinating interviews. As the pandemic continued, those unions helped workers push for stronger wages and job protection. Their message was clear: ‘Look what’s happening,’ says Comen. “These are our neighbors, our fellow Americans. And how do we treat them? [They’re] rise despite the force majeure at great personal risk.”

Carlos Arevalo, Jason Calixto, Esbeida Refugio and Ray Miller
Security Guard, Los Angeles County + USC Hospital
The administrators responsible for cleaning and sanitizing LAC + USC Hospital understand that their job is critical. Jason Calixto (second from left) said: “The burden rests on us to protect not only the workforce, but society, our community and the public. We must do everything we can to protect everyone who enters the hospital, those who visit the hospital, ourselves and our families. I was 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 6. I kept working because, you know, life goes on, and you have to keep going, even though you’re not 100% mentally. I thought about going to Guatemala. I couldn’t, because I would have to quarantine myself when I got to Guatemala, so why did I go anyway? And when I came back, I had to quarantine again. So no. [Photo: Sam Comen]
Vince Mena, Dale Smith, Kristina “Kady” Kepner and Brandon Terrazas
Los Angeles Firefighters
Photographed at Station 3 in Downtown LA
Because Los Angeles County has a public health department but the City of Los Angeles does not, the mayor has asked the fire department to help develop COVID test sites. Kady Kepner (second from right), assistant chief, oversaw that initiative. She shared: “It has certainly been a challenge for all of us, as it has for everyone. We have had to implement new protocols, policies and a host of new and innovative ways to continue doing our job and delivering exceptional customer service to the communities we serve.” [Photo: Sam Comen]
Rebecca Melchor, Sandra Ceja and Karina Franco
Surgical Technologist and RNs, 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 pregnant patients have tested positive for COVID. She said: “I was part of the first crash COVID C-section we had. It was an emergency C-section, life and death. Sometimes you feel uncomfortable. I mean, though, it’s something you think you should do. No one else is going to do it. We cannot reject a patient just because she has COVID. If she’s a pregnant patient, we’ll take care of her.’ [Photo: Sam Comen]