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Chances are those tomatoes, strawberries or almonds you find in your grocery store come from California’s farm country. Monica Campbell of our partner The World takes us into the fields with workers, who are harvesting crops in the middle of the pandemic. She investigates how they’re being protected from the coronavirus and asks what happens if they get too sick to work. 

Host Al Letson talks to an employee of a Winn-Dixie grocery store. He is home sick with symptoms of COVID-19 but doesn’t qualify for a test and says he’s fed up with how he is being treated. 

Reveal’s Will Carless gives us an overview of how grocery store employees across the country say they are being treated on the job, both physically and financially. 

We check in with The Okra Project, a food justice initiative for black transgender New Yorkers, to learn how it’s continuing to serve the community amid the coronavirus lockdown.

We end with a look at workers in another industry that’s been hit hard by the coronavirus: airlines. Letson speaks with a flight attendant who says his airline has been slow to take measures to protect passengers and crew. Then he speaks with Reveal data reporter Melissa Lewis about conflicting information one airline is sending to its employees and how flight attendants throughout the system are concerned for their safety.

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Credits

Reported by: Monica Campbell, Will Carless, Patrick Michels and Melissa Lewis

Produced by: Monica Campbell, Anayansi Diaz Cortes, Michael Schiller and Emily Schwing

Edited by: Kevin Sullivan, Brett Myers, Jen Chien and Taki Telonidis

Production manager: Mwende Hinojosa

Production assistance: Amy Mostafa

Sound design: Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda and Claire Mullen

Mixing: Najib Aminy

Special thanks to Reveal’s engagement team: Sumi Aggarwal, Byard Duncan and Hannah Young

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Editorial support from Andrew Donohue, Narda Zacchino, Soo Oh and Esther Kaplan

Episode photo by Monica Campbell for Reveal

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. This is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Around 7:00 PM each night, the eerie silence that is spread through the streets of New York City is being replaced by this: clapping, cheering, chanting, singing. It’s not just New York, around the world people are showing their gratitude for doctors and nurses, but also delivery drivers, mail carriers, flight attendants, grocery store clerks, and farm laborers. The essential workers who can’t work from home and don’t always get sick pay.

Al Letson:

What protections are in place for workers who feel they have no choice but to stay on the job? Monica Campbell of our partner show, The World, has been following how the pandemic is affecting farm workers. The week President Trump declared a national emergency, she headed to California’s farmlands. Chances are those strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, or almonds you see in your supermarket come from this area. Since that day, she followed the story of the tough choices facing people who make sure we have food on our tables.

Monica Campbell:

I head to Greenfield. It’s a small town of about 20,000 people. It’s the second week of March and about 250 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in California. On the outskirts of town, there are all the fields. I go down this street and it turns into a dirt road.

Speaker 3:

Turn right on East Dallas hall street.

Monica Campbell:

All of the housing changes from suburban, small homes, to single room dwellings. It’s like you’re walking into those black and white photos from the Dust Bowl days. I walk up to one of these structures and it’s a complex of single rooms. One after another, after another and I count 20. In the building is tan. It’s the same color as the dirt, as the earth and I spot a man outside of one of the rooms. [Foreign].

Monica Campbell:

I explain that I’m not shaking hands because of the virus. [Nikolas] lives in room 13 and he’s in his late 20s. He looks older though. He’s worked outside all of his life.

Speaker 4:

[Foreign].

Monica Campbell:

And he tells me he works in the broccoli fields. I want to talk about the coronavirus, but Nikolas is more concerned about the rain. If it rains and he can’t work and it all depends on that. Nikolas [Foreign]. He has three in Mexico and the money that he sends home pays for their food and utilities. Anything they need for school. They’re young kids. 11 seven and four years old. Nikolas makes 13.50 an hour. He wires most of it home to a small rural village in Southern Mexico. It’s 2000 miles away. He’s the sole breadwinner. [Foreign]. And he gets to work by cramming himself into the back of a Silverado with half a dozen other men. It’s how a lot of people get to the fields. [Foreign].

Monica Campbell:

He says the other day, a guy at work would not stop coughing. Not for four days. Many suspected it was the coronavirus, but they all rode together anyway. He figures the guy coughing can’t afford to stay home with. Nikolas can’t just get out of the car and walk to work if someone’s coughing. That’s just what’s happening.

Monica Campbell:

It’s still a month or two from full blown harvest season. Crews are already prepping the fields and soon they’re going to burst with spinach, broccoli and lettuce. [Foreign]. I met [Alfonso Hernandez] and [Daveed Rebeta]. They’re at work. They’re on a tractor and they’re sitting really close together.

Monica Campbell:

And they’re hauling these long steel irrigation pipes across these huge fields. They’re setting up the irrigation system for the fields, for the harvest. I asked what their employers have told them so far about stepping up work safety and social distance about the coronavirus. Alfonso says his boss hasn’t given them any information about the virus. This was a few weeks ago and I checked with him on the phone this week and he told me there had been a meeting and he’d been told to wash his hands and that was it. I requested an interview with Alfonso’s boss but didn’t hear back.

Armando Elenes:

Okay, I’m ready. Recording. My name is Armando Elenes. I’m the secretary treasurer for the United Farm Workers.

Monica Campbell:

Armando Elenes works on behalf of farm workers. Armando and his team have been serving farm workers every few weeks asking what their employers are telling them. He says the workers aren’t getting enough information and that they’re scared.

Armando Elenes:

And rightfully so because they’re not being provided information. They’re scared of losing their money. They’re scared of getting infected now. When the government says they’re essential workers, the workers are responding to like, “What? Now we’re essential.”

Monica Campbell:

That attitude made a lot of farm workers really angry.

Armando Elenes:

Because they were also saying, “Hey, I’m not immune. I could get sick as well.” And some are also very happy that they can continue working, right. But they’re very afraid, deeply afraid now of getting sick.

Monica Campbell:

The emergency legislation passed by Congress offers up to you 80 hours of paid sick time for workers, but this doesn’t apply to all companies. Really big companies and really small companies can be exempt from paying out this sick time. That means Alfonso and Daveed are not eligible because Elkhorn Packing their employer has more than 500 employees. Many other farm workers are in the same position. I call Elkhorn Packing for comment, but they didn’t get back to me. Another issue is health insurance. More than half of farm workers don’t have it.

Monica Campbell:

When workers finish their day in the field, many of them go home and they go home to boarding rooms. Like the one Nikolas lives in. It costs $260 a month but the conditions are less than ideal for fighting the coronavirus. He tells me none of the rooms have their own bathrooms. There’s a communal bathroom. There’s a urinal and two toilets and a sink, concrete floor. Only men who live here. Yeah, it’s not very clean.

Monica Campbell:

Think of a bathroom at like a rundown state park or an old army barracks. Everything’s outside, the showers, there’s the sinks. There’s a large tub like a basin and then there’s this small bright pink bar of soap, just one and everyone uses that. He’s heard about the coronavirus on the radio and he knows he needs to wash his hands more and he says he’s doing that but when you look at the washbasin that he has to use, it’s caked with dirt.

Monica Campbell:

What would you do if you have a symptom like a fever or a cough? He would call the foreman and then the hospital, but he didn’t really seem to know much about what it meant to call in sick because he’s never called in sick. In the States, he’s never being to a doctor. The last time you went to a doctor was in Mexico where they have universal healthcare coverage. I asked him if could take a peek into his room and it’s a really small room, very small, modest. It’s just a single bed really with a single sheet. On a small nightstand, I see a bottle of rubbing alcohol and it’s what he uses to clean his hands, disinfect his room, and if he gets a cold, he rubs it on his face and says it’s good for when his bones hurt. It’s half full and the only cleaning product I spot.

Roger Teneyuki:

How are you?

Monica Campbell:

How are you.

Roger Teneyuki:

[Foreign].

Monica Campbell:

Your name’s Roger.

Roger Teneyuki:

[Roger Teneyuki].

Monica Campbell:

Roger spent a big part of his life here.

Roger Teneyuki:

My parents, we used to live there right across the street. There’s a little house as you come in on the four way stop.

Monica Campbell:

What do you do here?

Roger Teneyuki:

I do the plans, doors, the windows or something.

Monica Campbell:

He’s the caretaker and lives three doors down from Nikolas. His room doesn’t have a bathroom either.

Roger Teneyuki:

Yes. This is single dwellings. As far as the hygiene, they don’t have no laboratories or restrooms. This is simple [Foreign].

Monica Campbell:

Kind of all purpose.

Roger Teneyuki:

Yes. Well, you have to get up and you have to go outside like a cabana.

Monica Campbell:

Right.

Roger Teneyuki:

They have to get up, travel over to go loo… they go clean up or-

Monica Campbell:

Kind of like dormitory style.

Roger Teneyuki:

Yes. Yes.

Monica Campbell:

Roger does his best to keep things stocked. He buys soap and paper towels with his own money. Financially, he’s just a half step away from the farm workers who live here with him. Any worries about what will happen if people start getting sick? The idea now is like if you have a fever that you stay home for two weeks. Do you think people will do that?

Roger Teneyuki:

No, I don’t think so. They will constantly have work.

Al Letson:

Thanks to Monica Campbell of The World for bringing us that story. None of the large farms or farm associations we contacted agreed to do an interview with us, but we were able to reach Full Belly Farm just north of Sacramento. It’s a smaller organic farm with about 80 full-time workers producing a hundred different crops which they sell to restaurants, wholesalers and farmer’s markets. Paul Muller is one of the owners. Paul, thanks for joining me.

Paul Muller:

Well, thank you for having me today.

Al Letson:

Specifically like what are you telling your employees so that they can remain safe?

Paul Muller:

We’ve talked about washing hands and cleanliness and using gloves when they pick and repeated hand washing whenever they take those gloves off and they come in from the fields and we’ve talked about social distancing, not only with them as a crew, but trying to get them the information about their families so that we as a firm can hopefully avoid seeing anyone come up here that might be ill. And we’re also telling them if they feel sick or if they feel like they don’t feel well, they should stay home. They should call us and let us know what’s going on so that we have a good handle on the health of anyone who is not able to come to work because they’re not feeling well.

Al Letson:

Are they able to get to hand sanitizer or wash their hands while they’re in the field?

Paul Muller:

They travel as a crew, maybe four or five people together trying to keep some distance there. Every truck has some hand sanitizer. In the truck, we have hot water, hand wash stations here when they come in for lunch and when they start the day and when they finish the day.

Al Letson:

It just seems like a really impossible situation for all involved in the sense of like having that many people like in a car together is not… you can’t really do the social distancing there, right?

Paul Muller:

Well, that’s true. We can practice the best type of social distancing we can and we’re asking them to work as a crew and, or to sit a couple in the back of a pickup as they’re going out to a field, trying to be more mindful of the distance they have between one another but the greater calamity may be if we stop producing food and the greater irony is that at this time we realize that those who we’ve kind of disregarded or somewhat marginalized in society in one way or another, either by not acknowledging their contribution or not paying them well enough so that they have a respectable life and can raise their kids and go local schools, et cetera. We now understand that they’re essential workers in this system. They’re the ones who keep the food coming from the fields to those grocery stores we’re all depending upon more intimately now. It is a conundrum. We are doing the best we can and kind of making it up as we go along here.

Al Letson:

We’ve heard from some farm workers who are angry that they feel like now people consider them essential but in general they don’t get a lot of respect.

Paul Muller:

I would say the anger is pretty justified. They have always been essential workers. They have always been the hands that pick the fruit or sort the ears of corn or make a judgment about which apple is right. They’ve all been doing that for years and if you look at California’s agricultural economy, they say as many as… anywhere from 50 to 70% of the workers in California’s fields may not be fully documented. We should stop dancing around the idea of immigration reform.

Paul Muller:

We have 13 million people in this country doing a lot of the jobs that are critical jobs to keep our hotels open or our restaurants serving food or dishes getting washed or construction sites continuing being built. They’re doing things that are critical to us and we should stop fooling ourselves and get to the business of allowing them recognition and some status where they’re not living in the shadows or living in fear.

Al Letson:

You mentioned that a lot of workers are undocumented and that puts workers at greater risk. How does that affect you as a farm owner?

Paul Muller:

Well, I have to verify. I have to have a Social Security number for every worker we have. I have to verify that they have a card that says they can work in this country as every farmer does. I think what it does is it makes everyone in the food system somewhat culpable to what is a lie and that ultimately erodes the character of anyone who has to farm and live with that lie.

Al Letson:

If one of the people working on your farm got sick what kind of health care options would they have?

Paul Muller:

We pay part of their health insurance about 50%, and they pay the other half. but we make sure that they understand the process of accessing their doctor and making sure they can use that healthcare. We ask them to keep us informed of what’s going on so we can help them, and then we have to begin monitoring everybody else. It is a dangerous situation. We don’t know exactly what we’ll do until we are confronted with someone who’s sick and then figure out how we deal with that.

Al Letson:

Are you worried about your farm surviving this crisis?

Paul Muller:

Well, I’m not in that I know people are going to eat food and our social contract, what we’re in business for is to grow food. I’m worried that at some point someone will say farm workers can’t be out there and the real process that we’re engaged in right now, at the end of March, 1st of April, we are planting our summer crops as most farmers in this area who grow crops for production are planting summer crops and those are tomatoes and melons and corn and beans and things that we will be eating six months from now or three months from now.

Paul Muller:

It’s really difficult to think about how we would say that the farm worker community has to stay home and shelter in place because there simply would stop being movement of a lot of crops from our California fields.

Al Letson:

If the government told you to close your farm temporarily, what would you do?

Paul Muller:

Well, I think we have a partnership here. I think all the partners would be picking vegetables and picking what we could and we’d pick and pack and try and get things to people who need it and if we can’t have our farm workers here, those of us who are able to work here on the farm will still pick what we can, but we won’t be able to produce nearly as much as we can with a good healthy crew. I don’t know what we’d do.

Al Letson:

Paul Muller is one of the owners of Full Belly Farm, north of Sacramento. Paul, thank you so much for talking to us.

Paul Muller:

Well, you’re very welcome. Thank you for your show and[inaudible 00:17:48] what you’re doing. Bye.

Al Letson:

One more note. Paul tells us that he’s offering workers up to 80 hours of sick time, which the federal relief package now provides and the day after we spoke he sent us a follow-up note. He said our conversation got him thinking, so he held a meeting with his crew and told them they could only allow two people in a truck from now on and they must practice six feet of social distancing. He says they’re ordering masks, but in the meantime he’s encouraging workers to cover their mouths with bandanas.

Al Letson:

In between the field and the table is the grocery store and some workers there are worried about having to come into contact with the public?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Absolutely. If I could afford to just stay at home and stay quarantined with my family until this whole thing blows over, there’s no doubt in my mind I would do it.

Al Letson:

You’re listening to Reveal.

Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. This is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. The lettuce and broccoli that are picked by farm workers in California make their way to store shelves thanks in large part to an army of workers inside grocery stores. Right now as the majority of Americans shelter in place, grocery stores are some of the last remaining hubs of activity and there are also potential hubs for the spread of the coronavirus. Grocery store workers are on the front lines designated as an essential workforce by some states, but how well are they being protected and compensated for their role in this fight.

Al Letson:

To find out, I called up Nathan Tetreault. Nathan’s 38 years old and works in the produce department at a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Pensacola, Florida. Do you remember the first time you heard about the coronavirus?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

I do.

Al Letson:

What did you think about it?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

I actually, I took it pretty serious right off the bat.

Al Letson:

And what about your job?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

They were slow to respond at first. They took a lot of gloves from the produce department to pass around to everybody but they were only giving them a few pairs at a time and then they started getting a little more serious and they took away the community coffee, the free coffee for all customers. They took away single serve donuts. They were wiping things down a little bit more, but it didn’t seem too diligent and they are not enforcing the six foot policy and the checkout lines. Everybody is still crammed in there trying to check out quickly as they can.

Al Letson:

Is it possible to do that?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

It is definitely possible. There are stores like Target for example, last time we went in there they actually put little circles on the ground at the check outlines that are six feet apart. I know Publix has started installing little plastic guards between their cashiers and the customers, but yet there’s not too much going on over at Winn-Dixie.

Al Letson:

And when did you start feeling sick?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

15 days today is when I started feeling sick. I am still symptomatic. I’m not getting better, however, it’s not getting worse either. So I guess that’s a plus.

Al Letson:

What are the symptoms that you’re having right now?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

My lungs are very heavy. My wife’s having pretty much the same symptoms as I am. We feel like we got those little led blankets from the dentist just sitting on our lungs. A little bit of a dry cough, congestion. I guess we’re lucky enough to not have a fever, any of the other crazy symptoms so we were just told to stay home.

Al Letson:

Have you been tested for it at all?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

That’s an interesting question. We cannot get tested. We do not meet the criteria for testing in our area. You have to be over 65 with severe symptoms. You have to have left the country in the past few weeks or had positive contact with somebody who has been diagnosed. Because we don’t meet those criteria or the unsaid ones of being an actor or politician or athlete, we can’t get tested unfortunately. They said two out of the three symptoms is just not enough right now.

Al Letson:

And did you tell your employer that you were feeling sick?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

I did. The day I was feeling sick, I went in and I told my manager, “Look, I don’t think I need to be here. I need to go home.” And she said, “Well, we were told to send you home right away then if you don’t feel good.”

Al Letson:

And are you being paid, do you have sick leave at all?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Absolutely not.

Al Letson:

When are you supposed to head back to work?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Thursday of this week.

Al Letson:

Thursday… I’m talking to you on a Monday and you go back in four days. How are you feeling?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

I mean, I’m still feeling symptomatic. I don’t feel like I’m 100%, that’s for sure but again, I really can’t afford to stay out of work much longer.

Al Letson:

I mean, that’s the primary driver of you going back, is that you need a paycheck?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Absolutely. If I could afford to just stay home and stay quarantined with my family until this whole thing blows over, there’s no doubt in my mind I would do it.

Al Letson:

Are you worried about spreading the virus if you have it?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Oh, for sure. I live in an older community. We are the youngest people in our neighborhood, so I’m scared every day for my neighbors. We’ve told them don’t even come to our yard right now. We’re just trying to protect everybody around us.

Al Letson:

What are you going to do when you go back to work? Are you like going to wear gloves and a mask? I mean, what’s your game plan?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Yes. Actually before this got really, really bad, me and my wife actually got our hands on one N95 mask each and I’m just going to have to I guess Lysol it every single day after my shift and reuse it because we aren’t getting supplied masks and I’m sure as heck not going to want to trust a bandana.

Al Letson:

How important is your paycheck to your family’s finances?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Oh my gosh, it’s critical. My wife has medically retired. She doesn’t get a ton of money. She covers the bills. My paycheck basically covers our food and any kind of extras we may need.

Al Letson:

Do you have any idea how you might’ve gotten sick in the first place?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

I would put my bets on working at the grocery store. First of all, produce department. People are touching every single potato, every single tomato, every pepper. It’s not like the aisles where somebody is just grabbing a box and going.

Al Letson:

What would you like people to know about what it’s like to work in a grocery store right now?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Oh geez. Be patient with everybody who’s working there. Please be respectful of the social distancing and don’t touch everything. Commit before you actually put it in your cart.

Al Letson:

I’m just curious that like we’re in this really, really hard space where people kind of-

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Bless you.

Al Letson:

Where people like yourself have to make really hard decisions. Like you’re not feeling well, but on the flip side, you can’t afford to stay home. How does that make you feel?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Helpless. Lost. We’re in America. This is supposed to be the richest and greatest country in the world. Right now I really don’t feel that way.

Al Letson:

Are you worried about speaking out about the working conditions?

Nathan Tetreaul…:

I don’t care anymore. I’m at the point where I am just so fed up with it that I’m just… I’m done. It’s time for people to just start speaking out about their employers and the lack of care that we’re given. We don’t feel valued half the time.

Al Letson:

Nathan, thank you so much for talking to us today and really I hope you feel better and take care of yourself.

Nathan Tetreaul…:

Thank you sir. I appreciate it.

Al Letson:

Okay man, take care.

Al Letson:

After we spoke to Nathan, Winn-Dixie updated its policies, installing plexiglass partitions at checkouts and strengthening its rules on social distancing, and Nathan just learned he’s not allowed to go back to work without a doctor’s note. He still isn’t getting paid time off. We reached out for comment to Winn-Dixie parent company, Southeastern Grocers, but never heard back. Nathan got in touch with us because we’ve been running a campaign on social media asking grocery workers to tell us what they’re seeing during this crisis. The results are eyeopening. We had more than 600 responses from a cashier at a ShopRite store in New Jersey to a worker at a Whole Foods in New Orleans, Louisiana. My colleagues, Patrick Michels and Will Carless have been reading through them and interviewing grocery workers across the country.

Al Letson:

Will is here with me now to talk about what they learned. Hey Will.

Will Carless:

Hey Al.

Al Letson:

So Will, I know you’ve been focusing on the 10 biggest grocery chains like Kroger and Albertsons. The worker we heard from a minute ago, Nathan, is his situation unusual?

Will Carless:

No, definitely not. I mean we heard this again and again and again. For a lot of these people, there just isn’t an option. They have to go to work in order to keep food on the table. Here’s what one worker at a major supermarket in Wyoming wrote to us. He says there was a string of multiple days where I was insanely sick, yet I came into work to risk not being fired. I would work for a brief period of time before I nearly collapsed and then I’m allowed to go home.

Al Letson:

That just doesn’t sound safe. I mean that’s not good for the employee, but also for the people that are coming into the store.

Will Carless:

Right. I mean, one of the people I spoke to kind of described this as like the grocery stores, like the Petri dishes. Like that’s the place that this virus is going to get spread around. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t left my house other than to go to the grocery store. Like that’s the only place I go to pick up my groceries. It’s the only place I interact with people and I think that that’s a similar experience for a lot of people.

Al Letson:

But there are some grocery stores that are giving people time off. Right?

Will Carless:

Yeah. This is definitely something that’s really been evolving throughout this crisis. We heard from dozens of employees, from some of the biggest grocery chains who told us that the only way that they could get paid sick time was that they could prove that they’d contracted COVID-19 but we all know how hard it is, especially for young people to actually get tested.

Will Carless:

Now, some companies are beginning to relax those policies. Huge chains like Kroger are now saying the people who are sick and self-isolate that they can also get paid time off but for a lot of workers, it’s been a really confusing time. We’re definitely still hearing from people like Nathan who feel that they have to go to work even if they feel sick.

Al Letson:

What about pay in general? I mean, grocery stores have got to be making a lot of money right now. I’ve seen some stores like Publix have been making record sales lately.

Will Carless:

Yeah early on. Some chains, like Whole Foods and Albertsons, upped work a pay by $2 an hour. Essentially hasn’t paid, but other companies started off smaller. Take Kroger, they initially offered workers just a $25 credit to be spent inside the store.

Al Letson:

That just sounds like something from America’s past. It sounds like a company town or something where you’re given script that you can only spend in the place that you earned the script from.

Will Carless:

Yeah and they took a lot of heat for that Al. After employees complained, Kroger did up the one time bonuses to $150 for part-time workers and $300 for full-time workers but Kroger waited until the end of March to increase the basic pay by $2 an hour. They’re calling this hero pay rather than hazard pay and it’s going into effect for at least three weeks.

Al Letson:

What did the companies tell you when you talk to them?

Will Carless:

Well, I tried to interview all of the top 10 grocery companies, but nobody would go on the radio and answer our questions. We did get a few kind of broad PR statements that the companies have put out. Here’s a statement we got from a Kroger spokesperson for example. They say our associates are on the front lines ensuring Americans have access to the food and products they need during this unprecedented pandemic. We’re committed to protecting the health and safety of our associates. Now same statement says that Kroger has let its employees know that they’re now permitted to wear masks and gloves, but multiple Kroger employees and employees of other chains say that they’ve been discouraged from wearing those at their local stores.

Al Letson:

We know what a lot of grocery store workers think of their employees. What do they have to say about the customers?

Will Carless:

Right. Workers are really upset and frustrated about not only how they’re being treated by their employers, but also how customers are interacting with them. Hundreds of workers wrote to tell us how stressful it is when people are panic buying, not staying six feet away or even swamping them when a new delivery comes in, and some people told us they’ve been screamed at, hit, even spat on.

Al Letson:

Okay. So Will, all of us still have to buy food? How can we be good citizens when we’re out at the store picking up our supplies?

Will Carless:

I mean, grocery workers, they’re tired, they’re stressed out at this point. They don’t necessarily want to be told that they’re heroes or anything, but just a nice word here and there goes a long way, right? When a new load of stock comes in, I’d say just respect people’s space and recognize that the person I’m packing that load of produce, they might be really worried whether this might be the day that they end up taking the virus home with them, and these people have to make this decision every morning when they wake up. Do I go to work and face this virus and come home with a paycheck or do I just take time off usually unpaid.

Al Letson:

Thanks a lot Will.

Will Carless:

Thanks Al.

Al Letson:

Also, thanks to Patrick Michels for his work reporting this story.

Al Letson:

In these times of uncertainty, we’re seeing people pull together and get creative in the ways they’re helping out, especially around basic needs like food. We’re going to hear now from one group that’s stepping up its efforts to support the community, The Okra Project in New York City. It was founded to fight food insecurity among black trans New Yorkers. Folks that even in the best of times are at risk for poverty, hunger, unemployment, and homelessness. Ianne Fields Stewart is the organization’s founder.

Ianne Fields St…:

Okra is historically and been used as a way of… the okra seed would be woven into black folks’ hair during the transatlantic slave trade as a means of bringing food into this new world that we were entering. Okra in our cooking has always kind of represented a vitality and wealth prosperity, like passing things on from unity, that kind of thing.

Al Letson:

I know it seems like a lifetime ago for many of us, but do you remember when you could just go to someone’s house for dinner or have someone at yours? Back then The Okra Project was bringing black trans chefs into the homes of black trans people to cook them healthy home cooked meals for free.

Ianne Fields St…:

It can be nice to have like someone in your home to cook for you. Like that’s a love language for so many black people and in our community, I think cooking is a huge way of saying I love you, I extend grace to you and so we thought rather than kind of making meals and just sending them to people, like what is it like to actually have that luxury of having a private chef. Not only is the community ability happening in the kitchen with folks who are really getting like love handed to them on a plate, we also then can connect them to like, “Hey, I actually need help in these other areas of my life and here are all these other organizations full of people that look loving but like you that can help you as well.”

Al Letson:

So you create The Okra Project, you guys are going around serving love on a plate. I love that. That’s like… that’s amazing. You’re going around serving love on a plate and then the coronavirus hits. How have you had to change your operation because of that?

Ianne Fields St…:

Obviously moments like this, like this world that we are now living in, we’ve had to shift how we do things and what we’re able to do, but the heart of what we always are trying to do in The Okra Project, there is a need, meet it and make it easy, accessible and free. That we go to the grocery store, we buy as much as we can or we have incredible people such as [DIGIN] or other local community organizations who have donated food to us and we put packages together, put them in a car service and have that car service take the food directly to the person so they can get it right out of the back, that seat. That’s sort of the best way that we’ve found to like stay connected to people and make sure that people are fed.

Ianne Fields St…:

Then have like the resources they need to cook for themselves without actually having any sort of contact or exposing anyone and it’s been really difficult. The other day we got a donation that was all fresh fruits and things like that and so we were like, well we have to get… this has to go today and it was like fully filling my living room and so we found someone with a car, we filled the back seat with all kinds of groceries and things like that and basically we just went around and created sort of like The Okra Project drive through grocery store and folks could basically come out of their house.

Ianne Fields St…:

We didn’t have to have contact because we could talk from the front of the car and just to like say hi to everyone and people could just get the groceries they needed. That was some of the immediate responses that we got. Anything we had left over, we’d donated to the Ali Forney Center who are doing incredible work right now as well to protect our youth and so yeah, it’s been insane, but it’s been really valuable to sort of know that people are still contributing to our organization and trusting us to help the community.

Al Letson:

Thank you for the work you do and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We really appreciate it.

Ianne Fields St…:

Thank you so much.

Al Letson:

You can find out more about The Okra Project at theokraproject.com. Bringing people together, that’s one of the things air travel does best, but the industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus. When we come back, what it’s meant for flight attendants who are still flying. You’re listening to Reveal.

Al Letson:

From the center for investigative reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. One of the industries hit hardest by the coronavirus is air travel. The number of planes and passengers in the air is way down. In the last week of March, air carriers flew less than half the number of flights compared to the same time last year and the federal government is stepping in, promising airline companies $50 billion in grants and loan guarantees to keep them in business.

Al Letson:

I was a flight attendant during 9/11 and I saw up close how the industry changed almost overnight. Of course the security got more intense, but there were other things too like how we treated each other. Everyone, flight attendants, and the public looked at each other suspiciously. It was a hard shift to make. I wanted to know what it was like flying during this crisis so I reached out to a flight attendant who started flying about a year ago.

Jay:

I love the job. It’s a great job to see different things that you never even think of visiting in your life and especially if you’re a good people person. I love speaking with people. It’s a perfect job for me.

Al Letson:

This is [Jay] and we’re not using his full name because he’s worried about losing his job. He works for one of the major carriers, but he’s not flying right now because he’s sick with what he’s pretty sure is COVID-19. He remembers early on that his company was putting out alerts about the coronavirus on its website, but they weren’t making a big deal about it. Then one day he went to work and everything changed.

Jay:

There was no [inaudible] in the terminal. It was just a deserted airport. That’s when I knew it was real.

Al Letson:

How long ago was that?

Jay:

I would say in the past two weeks. Past two and a half weeks. It started getting really bad. I took a flight that usually would take a lot of people will be on a flight. However, it was only 16 people out of the 200 or so seats open. Only 16 people in the flight.

Al Letson:

Do you feel the airline was taking the threat seriously? Did you feel like they were watching out for you and the passengers?

Jay:

Not as far as I know. I don’t believe so. Until it started affecting their pockets that’s when they started actually taking it serious.

Al Letson:

Did the airline begin changing the way they clean the planes? I used to be a flight attendant and I remember a lot of times we would have quick turns. So you get in, the cleaning crew comes on but also a lot of times we were helping the cleaning crew because you just had to move really quickly. I’m just curious if they kind of upped their game with cleaning given what’s going on.

Jay:

Me personally, I haven’t seen them spray any of the seats, the customers’ seats now. However I have seen them go into the forward doors as well as the afterwards and spray and wipe down all of like everything that you can see.

Al Letson:

I would imagine though being at that forward door and people coming in and you do the whole, hello, hello, hello, hello and the whole time you’re doing that, you’re watching people going like, do you have it? Are you sick? Are you going to get me sick?

Jay:

Yeah. Of course they’ll kind of speak with kind of tilted, like a back tilted towards me a little more wary of me. Yeah, definitely that happens a lot.

Al Letson:

When did you start feeling sick?

Jay:

I started feeling sick three days ago. I have a roommate who was also a flight attendant and he tested positive for COVID-19 and shortly after that I began feeling having symptoms, certain symptoms of night sweats, fever, body aches.

Al Letson:

And so have you been able to get to a doctor to get tested?

Jay:

No. What I did was I spoke with a doctor via an app called Doctor On Demand and they interviewed me and simply off the fact that I’ve been in contact with somebody, they sent me a two week form to stay off for work.

Al Letson:

This virus has sort of a long incubation period. Do you think you were flying while you might’ve been sick?

Jay:

Definitely. I definitely think I was sick while I was flying. I may have not had any symptoms at the time. It took a while for it to develop and to be seen.

Al Letson:

And so how are you feeling now?

Jay:

I’m feeling weak. My body hurts very bad. It’s hard to get up out of bed, but I have to force myself to get out otherwise I’ll become weaker and every night I have a fever and I have cold sweats. I [inaudible] with my bed soaked because I’ve been sweating all night. However, I’m freezing.

Al Letson:

Is this going to change flying for you? Will you rethink the career path you’re on?

Jay:

Not at all. I love aviation in general. I feel like we just needed a break. We needed a reality check. The whole world did.

Al Letson:

Jay, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Jay:

Oh, thank you for the time to speak to me. I really appreciate your time.

Al Letson:

Reveal’s Melissa Lewis has been looking at how airlines are responding to the coronavirus and Melissa, in terms of spreading the virus, how dangerous is air travel at a time like this?

Melissa Lewis:

So Al, the short story is that we don’t have all the information we need to speak with certainty about that. Part of what’s dangerous overall about COVID-19 is that it’s fairly new, but we do know that it’s the same subtype of coronavirus as SARS and some of the responses to SARS were grounding flights because we know that was an important vector in proliferation of the disease and then other features specific to COVID-19 like The New England Journal of Medicine published research recently that found coronavirus and air like they aerosolized it up to three hours later and they found the virus living on some surfaces like plastic up to three days later.

Al Letson:

That sounds like a nightmare in a closed environment like an airplane.

Melissa Lewis:

Yeah, absolutely. The best guidance we have from the CDC is basically impossible to follow on an airplane. Not being within six feet of other people. If it’s a full flight, you can’t really manage that. Washing your hands constantly. You can’t really do that either.

Al Letson:

We’re hearing about all these risks, but how well are the airlines responding to them?

Melissa Lewis:

Actually a flight attendant reached out to me a couple of weeks ago about exactly this. She reached out because she was afraid to go to work. She was hearing about all these other people who work for airlines or work in airports who are getting sick, but she wasn’t getting any more information from her employer about it. One airport shut down because air traffic control got it, at one point she actually even saw another SkyWest flight attendant post online that they had tested positive and again just heard nothing directly from her employer.

Al Letson:

Did she ever hear anything from SkyWest?

Melissa Lewis:

Yes, definitely. She shared documents with me from her workplace. She had emails and bulletins and an FAQ page. There’s a whole employee web portal providing updated information, but it was kind of mixed and part. It was a lot of sources of information to keep track of at the same time but it was also because sometimes what the company said didn’t reflect what she was reading elsewhere. For example, on March 4th a company bulletin said that the immediate health risk from COVID-19 to the general public is considered low.

Al Letson:

And to be fair at the beginning of March, I don’t think a lot of people were taking it very seriously.

Melissa Lewis:

No, I don’t think I was either. I had just been on a flight and wasn’t super worried, but on that same day that she got this company bulletin, the CDC website said this would likely become a pandemic and the CDC website on a different page was telling airlines that any flight attendant with symptoms, even if they hadn’t tested positive for it, should self-isolate. She decided to call in and speak with someone directly about self-isolation. She had worked sick recently, not suspecting that it was coronavirus and she was wondering, what happens if I feel sick again?

Melissa Lewis:

The website said that she has to have a symptom and a doctor’s note to call out from work and not have it affect her reputation score, it’s called. Basically not to be penalized at work. She called in and asked what her options are and the person on the phone told her not just that she’d have to have a doctor’s note, but that she’d have to have all of the COVID-19 symptoms, the fever, the dry cough, the shortness of breath, all of it.

Al Letson:

When I worked for a regional airline, we fit into one major and that was it. We only had to go by one set of rules, but SkyWest has agreements with a lot of different airlines. Does she have to keep track of all of those?

Melissa Lewis:

Yeah. SkyWest actually partners with four majors, Delta, United, American, Alaska. If this flight attendant doesn’t have to work with all of those, but definitely has more than one to worry about and each of those majors have their own systems for things like where their flight attendants take out the trash at the end of the flight, how beverage service works and all that, but now as these airlines respond to the crisis and each one updates their policies week to week about things like this beverage service or wearing gloves on the job, it’s even more confusing to keep track of.

Al Letson:

Did you get the sense that this flight attendant was feeling alone as in she’s the only one that has these worries and everybody else is just working and not worried about it so much.

Melissa Lewis:

She’s in a SkyWest flight attendants Facebook group and a lot of people, there are expressing concerns. I mean a lot of people are also responding to say that they feel perfectly fine and they signed up for this but a lot of the pushback centers around people saying they’ve signed up to be flight attendants but not during a pandemic. One post that really struck me was a flight attendant who said all he was getting was an extra handful of disinfectant wipes and he said it felt like the equivalent of thoughts and prayers, but this isn’t just a SkyWest problem.

Melissa Lewis:

We’ve heard from flight attendants from a lot of airlines who said they also have private Facebook groups or other private online communities talking about their fears. There’s actually one specific to COVID-19 that started just three weeks ago and today it has 49,000 members.

Al Letson:

Wow. What do the airlines say about these concerns?

Melissa Lewis:

Ideally we’d have them on the phone with you to answer these questions, but none of them responded to give us an interview. We contacted the 10 largest mainline carriers and the 10 largest regional carriers and most didn’t even respond at all, and those that did respond just pointed us to the generic guidance of washing hands and social distancing, like on a webpage and most of the regionals didn’t have any guidance posted at all, including SkyWest.

Al Letson:

How is it possible that airlines, which are so regulated by the federal government for safety, how come we’re not seeing something like that for a public health crisis?

Melissa Lewis:

In terms of federal regulation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Transportation really do have authority to issue emergency regulation in a time like this but they haven’t yet. We asked them to comment, but they didn’t respond to our requests either.

Al Letson:

Aside from these agencies, is the federal government doing anything, Congress looking at any protections here?

Melissa Lewis:

They almost did. On March 11th the house introduced a bill with a provision to create standards to protect workers, specifically workers that either the CDC or OSHA deemed high risk from infectious diseases. That includes health care workers but according to OSHA, it also includes airline workers but by the time that bill passed the house, the provision wasn’t there anymore and so it wasn’t in the $2 trillion bailout that President Trump signed to respond to this crisis.

Al Letson:

Melissa, getting back to the flight attendant who worked for SkyWest, what are her plans for the future?

Melissa Lewis:

She told me she really liked doing this and she had no plans to stop doing it anytime soon, but she also didn’t have plans for the pandemic and now she’s just not sure what she’s going to do.

Al Letson:

Melissa Lewis, thank you so much for talking to me.

Melissa Lewis:

Thanks Al.

Al Letson:

Melissa Lewis is Reveal’s data reporter. She had help on that story from Emily Schwing.

Al Letson:

The rest of the show was produced by Anayansi Diaz-Cortes and Michael Schiller with additional reporting from Patrick Michels. Our editors for this week’s show, are Jen Chien, Taki Telonidis, and Brett Myers. We had additional editorial support from [Andy] Donohue, Narda Zacchino, Soo Oh, and Esther Kaplan. Thanks to our engagement team, Sumi Aggarwal, Byard Duncan, and Hannah Young. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager’s Mwende Hinojosa. Score and sound design by the justice league. [J.Breezy], Mr. Jim Briggs. Fernando, my man, yo Arruda and [Claire C. Muller].

Al Letson:

They had this week from Amy Mostafa and [G. Bimini]. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [Comarado, Lightning]. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson and remember, the only way through this is together.

Speaker 13:

From PRX.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Mwende Hinojosa is the production manager for Reveal. Prior to joining Reveal, she was the training strategist and innovation manager for the Bay Area Video Coalition, a nonprofit media arts center in San Francisco. At BAVC, she provided resources and support to students training in video, motion graphics, web and graphic design and managed a community for creative freelancers called Gig Union. She has produced segments for public radio stations KUSP, KQED, KALW and KUOW; videos and short documentaries for nonprofits; interactive panel discussions; and immersive storytelling experiences for tech companies. Hinojosa is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Will Carless was a correspondent for Reveal covering extremism. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia and South America. Prior to joining Reveal, he was a senior correspondent for Public Radio International’s Global Post team based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before that, Will spent eight years at the Voice of San Diego, where he worked as an investigative reporter and head of investigations. During his tenure in San Diego, Will was awarded several prizes, including a national award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has been a finalist for the Livingston Awards for young journalists twice in the last five years. He surfs, spends time with his family, travels to silly places and pretends he’s writing a novel.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for Reveal, covering immigration. His coverage focuses on immigration courts and legal access, privatization in immigration enforcement, and the government's care for unaccompanied children. He contributed to Reveal's award-winning project on indigenous land rights disputes created by oil pipelines. Previously, he was a staff writer at the Texas Observer, where his work included an investigation into corruption at the Department of Homeland Security and how the state's broken guardianship system allowed elder abuse to go unchecked. Michels was a Livingston Award finalist for his investigation into the deadly armored car industry. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where his work focused on government contractors grappling with trauma and injuries from their time in Iraq. Michels is based in Austin, Texas.

Melissa Lewis is a data reporter for Reveal. Prior to joining Reveal, she was a data editor at The Oregonian, a data engineer at Simple and a data analyst at Periscopic. She is an organizer for the Portland chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association. Lewis is based in Oregon.

Hannah Young is the Director of Audience at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, leading Reveal’s digital and social efforts. Using human-centered design, she and her team work to find new ways to expand the reach of Reveal’s journalism and engage more meaningfully with audiences across platforms.

Previously, Hannah was a Butler Koshland Fellow at Reveal focusing on creative engagement approaches in public journalism. Before that, Hannah worked at Code for America, where she led the Brigade program and grew it to a network of more than 50,000 civic tech volunteers in more than 80 cities across the U.S. During her time there, Brigade was responsible for nearly two thirds of total growth in the civic tech community in the country.

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes is a reporter and producer for Reveal. Her work has been featured everywhere from All Things Considered to  Radio Ambulante and  This American Life. She is a recipient of the Overseas Press Club Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation award. She was the creator and lead producer for KCRW’s Sonic Trace, a storytelling project that was part of AIR’s Localore initiative. Previously, she produced for Radio Diaries and has done extensive reporting in both the U.S. and Mexico. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Michael I Schiller

Michael I Schiller is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His Emmy Award-winning work spans animation, radio and documentary film.

“The Dead Unknown,” a video series he directed about the crisis of America's unidentified dead, earned a national News and Documentary Emmy Award, national Edward R. Murrow Award and national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award.

His 2015 animated documentary short film “The Box,” about youth solitary confinement, was honored with a video journalism award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, a San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award and a New Orleans Film Festival special jury prize, and it was nominated for a national News and Documentary Emmy for new approaches.

Schiller was one the producers of the pilot episode of the Peabody Award-winning Reveal radio show and podcast. He continues to regularly produce audio documentaries for the weekly public radio show, which airs on over 450 stations nationwide. Schiller is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Emily Schwing is a reporter for Reveal. She reported on how the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church used Native American communities and Alaska Native villages to hide abusive priests for decades, and she tracked those priests to a retirement home on Gonzaga University’s campus. The story won a Best of the West award and PRNDI award and made the final round of judging in the 2019 Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition. Previously, Schwing covered climate change, public land management and indigenous issues as a correspondent at the Northwest News Network. Before that, she spent more than a decade chasing sled dog teams and tracking down sources in some of the most remote corners of Alaska. Schwing is based in Alaska.

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jen Chien is a senior radio editor for Reveal. Previously, she was managing editor for KALW in San Francisco, where she also was host and executive producer of Sights & Sounds, an arts coverage, community engagement and community media training project. She has edited for podcasts including “70 Million” from Lantigua Williams & Co, “The Stoop” and Wondery. She has been a contributor to “All Things Considered,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, BBC/PRI’s “The World,” Making Contact, the San Francisco Public Press, the East Bay Express, New America Media and KPFA in Berkeley, California, where she took part in the First Voice Apprenticeship Program. Her work has won awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc., the Religion News Association, the San Francisco Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, which named her Outstanding Emerging Journalist in 2013. Chien holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Smith College and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary performance from New College of California. Before entering journalism, she had a successful career as a professional dance and theater artist, teacher and massage therapist. Chien is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Taki Telonidis is the senior supervising editor for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Sumi Aggarwal

Sumi Aggarwal is an award-winning journalist and communications professional. She spent nearly a decade at CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” where she produced a wide variety of stories, including an investigation into a 50-year-old civil rights-related murder, a historical story about an Egyptian double agent, a profile of Tabasco and a deep dive into new scientific findings on the effects of sugar. She has worked as a booking producer at the “Today” show and led executive communications for Google’s search and maps teams. Aggarwal was an adjunct professor at the City College of New York, where she helped establish the broadcast journalism curriculum. She has also worked at a number of local television stations and papers in California and Oregon.

Aggarwal has received numerous journalism awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, several News Emmys and an Edward R. Murrow Award. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Aggarwal is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Byard Duncan is a reporter and producer for  engagement and collaborations for Reveal. He manages Reveal’s Reporting Networks, which provide more than 1,000 local journalists across the U.S. with resources and training to continue Reveal investigations in their communities. He also helps lead audience engagement initiatives around Reveal’s stories and assists local reporters in elevating their work to a national platform. In addition to Reveal, Duncan’s work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, The California Sunday Magazine and Columbia Journalism Review, among other outlets. He was part of Reveal’s Behind the Smiles project team, which was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2019. He is the recipient of two Edward R. Murrow Awards, a National Headliner Award, an Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, and two first-place awards for feature storytelling from the Society of Professional Journalists and Best of the West. Duncan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Andy Donohue is the executive editor for projects for Reveal. He’s edited Reveal’s investigations into the treatment of migrant children in government care, Amazon’s labor practices, rehab work camps and sexual abuse in the janitorial industry. He’s been on teams that have twice been Pulitzer Prize finalists and have won Investigative Reporters and Editors, Edward R. Murrow, Online News Association, Third Coast International Audio Festival, Gerald Loeb, Sidney Hillman Foundation and Emmy awards. He previously helped build and lead Voice of San Diego, served on the IRE board for eight years and is an alumnus of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Donohue is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Narda Zacchino is a senior editor for Reveal. She was deputy editor of the San Francisco Chronicle after a long career at the Los Angeles Times, where she was a reporter, government and politics editor; Sacramento bureau chief; Orange County Edition editor; and associate editor/vice president overseeing a staff of 350 journalists. She was a four-time Pulitzer Prize judge, member of the American Society of News Editors and chair of its diversity committee, and co-founder of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. She co-authored with Mary Tillman "Boots on The Ground by Dusk: Searching for Answers in the Death of Pat Tillman" (2008/2010) and "California Comeback: How a 'Failed State' Became a Model for the Nation" (2014/2016), which California historian Kevin Starr called "a fast-moving and informed tour de force of contemporary history." She co-founded a small book publishing company and has edited more than a dozen nonfiction books. Zacchino is a consulting editor at Heyday Books, senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Policy, and advisory board member of the International Women's Media Foundation. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Esther Kaplan is the editor-at-large of Reveal, leading the organization's investigative reporting. She previously was editor-in-chief of Type Investigations, where she was part of teams that won three Emmy Awards, a Polk Award, a Peabody Award and an IRE Medal. She has written for Harper's Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Nation and many other publications. She is the author of “With God on Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right” (New Press) and was a 2013 fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation. Earlier in her career, Kaplan was a senior editor at The Nation; features editor at Poz, the national AIDS magazine; communications director at Communications Workers of America Local 1180; and a host of “Beyond the Pale,” a weekly radio program covering Jewish culture and politics on WBAI in New York. She began her journalism career as an assistant editor at The Village Voice, where she became a regular contributor. Her writing has won the Molly National Journalism Prize, the Sidney Award, the Clarion Award and other honors. Kaplan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Soo Oh is the enterprise editor for data at Reveal. She has previously reported data stories, coded interactive visuals and built internal tools at the Wall Street Journal, Vox.com, the Los Angeles Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2018, she was a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University, where she researched how to better manage and support journalists with technical skills. Oh is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.