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An Essential Worker Shares His Experience Of Working At A Clorox Plant

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the upside-down world that we now live in, the everyday can quickly morph into the essential. That's true of institutions, industries and people, too, which is what we'll hear in today's essential worker diary.

LARRY WHEELER: My name is Larry Wheeler. I'm a senior packaging operator of 29 years here at the Clorox manufacturing plant in Fairfield, Calif., where we produce and bottle bleach and disinfectants.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY RUNNING)

WHEELER: You are hearing the production lines running the packaging packer, which is packaging over 200 and 300 bottles a minute. So that's a big thud where the bottles are dropping into the cases.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY RUNNING)

WHEELER: We're making a lot of good stuff that kills the bad stuff, working seven days a week. Some of us are working 12 hours a day. Everybody here feels important now because we feel like we're doing something to help, you know, because we know our products work. And I just wish everybody could get them and we can get rid of this virus as quick as we could.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHEELER: I feel kind of bad sometimes because I hear on the news of all the people not working and, you know, that lost their jobs. And here I am working, you know, and getting bonuses, and they're hiring people. And it's just a - it's a different world here, you know. And it's kind of sad sometimes. You know, we'll run 90,000 cases, and I'll go to a store half a mile from this plant, and they don't have one bottle of what I just ran.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHEELER: A couple months ago, I working a 20-day straight and I was coming home from work, and I had to stop and get some milk on the way home. And I stopped into the local store to see if they had any, and they did. But as I was leaving the cash register, I was stopped by an elderly couple, probably mid-70s, man and a woman, and she said, I want to thank you. And I said, thank me? Thank me for what? She said, well, I seen your uniform. You work for Clorox company. And so I want to thank you for working while the rest of us are staying at home. I mean, it made me feel kind of - I don't know - special. I mean, I never thought of myself as being special.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHEELER: It is stressful out there. It's not for everybody because you have to make split-second decisions, and you're monitoring six to eight pieces of equipment sometimes by camera, as well as by visual. And so when you leave here, the one thing that I do to destress is make it quiet. I don't want to listen to one thing until I get home. And the favorite thing I like that makes me feel good when I get home is my - I've a border collie, comes running out to the truck.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG PANTING)

SHAPIRO: That's essential worker Larry Wheeler with his dog Gunner in Fairfield, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.