Los Angeles Times - 03.04.2020

(C. Jardin) #1



Raquel Lezama had rea-
son to be proud.
At 17, after crossing the
Mexican border, she toiled in
a Los Angeles garment fac-
tory, earning 5 cents for each
blouse she ironed — $50 a
day if she could manage 1,
Afew years later, after
surviving a brutal beating by
her day-laborer husband,
she gained legal residency
through a green card re-
served for victims of domes-
tic violence.
And seven years ago, the
single mother was hired at
Mr. C Beverly Hills, a luxury
hotel catering to Saudi
princes, Japanese industri-
alists and European models.
There she worked her way
up from a minimum wage
bed-making job to a position
as a $17.76-an-hour minibar
attendant — and helped or-
ganize fellow housekeepers
into a union.
“We were like a family,”
she said of her co-workers.
It had taken Lezama two
decades to claw her way out
of poverty. Then, in just a few
minutes, she lost her way of
The 38-year-old is among
more than 1.6 million Califor-
nians who are out of work as
a result of the coronavirus
pandemic. On March 13, the
hotel laid her off, along with
some 20 other housekeep-
ers. The hotel canceled
workers’ health insurance
and sent them home with no
severance. California’s lodg-
ing industry is one of the
hardest hit as the economy
all but shuts down; it is ex-
pected to shed some 125,
On Thursday, the U.S.
Department of Labor re-
ported that 878,
Californiansfiled unemploy-
ment claims last week, more
than double in any other
state. Nationwide, jobless
claims surged to a record 6.
million, up from 3.3 million
the prior week.
For those who can work
at home or have savings to
tide them over, COVID-
can be a painful disruption
for as long as it lasts. But for
low-wage workers like
Lezama, who speaks little
English, it can amount to a
How does the other half
live in the age of the co-
Lezama’s struggle over
the last three weeks is a les-
son in survival — in how one
modest family, led by one
tenacious woman, copes at a
time when the nation’s
threadbare safety net has
come into sharp relief.
On the day Lezama lost
her job, President Trump
declared the COVID-19 out-
break a national emergency.
Meanwhile, at the cramped
South Los Angeles home she
shares with her three chil-
dren, “I went into my bed-
room and closed the door,”

she said. “I didn’t want my
kids to see me crying.”
That afternoon, there
was more bad news: The Los
Angeles Unified School Dis-
trict announced it would
shut down, leaving her sons
—13-year-old Alan, who has
a learning disability, and 8-
year-old Jesus, who suffers
from chronic colitis — at
home with little means of
keeping up their education.
A few days before, her 19-
year-old daughter, Monica,
had moved back home from
Riverside County, her hopes
dashed of finding a job there
and studying to be a dental
By Monday at 9 a.m.,
Lezama was standing in line
with several hundred others
on Alvarado Street, where
the hotel workers union,
Unite Here, was helping
members apply for unem-
ployment benefits. But the
state’s website kept crash-
ing, and, after five hours, she
left without succeeding. She
had to get to a pharmacy to
pick up medicine for Jesus.
That night, after three
hours on the secondhand
computer she had bought on

an installment plan just a
year ago, Lezama was finally
able to file her application. It
would be 10 days before she
got a response saying she
qualifies for the state’s maxi-
mum of $450 a week — less
than two-thirds of her base
pay at the hotel.
But when would the
money come? She still
doesn’t know.
Meanwhile, with no sav-
ings, how would she feed the
children? How would she
pay the monthly rent of
$1,400 on her half of the small
lime-green duplex off South
Figueroa Street, due next
The landlord charges $
for every late day and was
not offering any relief.
And what about the $
monthly loan on her 13-year-
old Honda Accord? Or her
$140 monthly car insurance
bill? The gas bill? The elec-
tric bill?
Should she cancel the $
monthly Wi-Fi? But then her
son Alan could not access
his school’s promised dis-
tance learning.
“I need to sit down and
figure out what to cut,” she

said in an interview, sitting
on a park bench near her
home. “I just want to keep
my little family together.”
At night, Lezama wakes
up and can’t go back to sleep,
another worry on her mind:
The life insurance policy she
had been contributing to
each week disappeared with
her paycheck. “I had told my
kids this was very important
if something happens to
me,” she said. “Now, if I die,
will they even have money to
bury me?”
Two weeks after Lezama
was laid off, Congress
passed a $2-trillion federal
relief package, which in-
cludes a one-time $1,
cash payment for Ameri-
cans who make less than
$75,000, plus $500 for each
dependent child. The law’s
supplemental unemploy-
ment insurance — $600 a
month for four months —
could also make Lezama
whole for a time.
But the money could take
weeks to come, and what
happens when it runs out?
Meanwhile, bills are due.
Early on a chilly morning,
mother and daughter

walked the six blocks from
their home, down streets
with little stucco bungalows,
across a playground with a
mural reading “Be Kind,”
past a shuttered boxing gym
and a Pentecostal church to
the grab-and-go food center
at Manual Arts High School.
The two plastic bags they
collected would replace a
day’s free breakfast and
lunch that the school dis-
trict offers to low-income
Back home, Lezama set
up three tray tables and laid
out the chocolate milk, bur-
ritos, apples, oranges,
cheese and cookies. The
boys sat on Monica’s bed,
which takes up half the
space in the small living
Alan was a study in
gloom, his head down, his
shoulders rounded, his voice
barely registering above a
whisper. He missed his
school friends, he said, and
was spending a lot of time
playing “Fortnite.”
Jesus sprang up with a
grin, showing off the packet
of homework his mother had
picked up from school. He
cuddled his pet rabbit and
said he was doing more
chores because of a card
game they had made up.
“Whoever loses must
wash the dishes,” he said.
The boys stay indoors,
fearing that venturing out-
side could expose them to
the virus. They do jumping
jacks and push-ups. They
play Monopoly and chess.
Monica tries to help with
homework, navigating the
schools’ confusing websites.

“It’s hard,” she said.
“Sometimes the Wi-Fi cuts
out. Sometimes Alan’s
teacher doesn’t email him
back. And when I don’t
understand fractions either,
he gets frustrated.”
Monica has her own trou-
bles. She had quit a job at an
L.A. Jack in the Box out of
fear: Customers made death
threats when orders were
not to their liking.
Her Riverside move was
an effort “to find calm and
less violence, but it didn’t
turn out so good and now I
feel useless,” she said. “I
can’t help my mom with the
rent and the bills. It’s really
hard to find a job.”
Lezama hasn’t applied
for a new job, partly because
she is in constant pain. Last
June, a co-worker opened a
door, inadvertently pushing
Lezama’s heavy minibar
cart and causing her to fall. A
workers’ comp doctor gave
her medication, but injuries
to her neck, shoulder and
hand have failed to heal. She
goes to physical therapy and
acupuncture three times a
“But I never missed
work,” she said.
Now, along with her job,
the coronavirus has stolen
Lezama’s pride. As a gar-
ment worker, she got food
stamps. But she swore that
if she ever got legal docu-
ments, “I would never de-
pend on the government
again,” she said. “We never
lived in luxury. But I earned
enough to cover our ex-
Since her layoff, Leza-
ma’s days are a whirl of car-
ing for her children, negoti-
ating to delay her bills, rush-
ing out to union food banks
and school lunch handouts,
picking up homework for Je-
sus, and driving to physical
She doesn’t watch the
“It is too depressing,” she
said. “It makes me sad not to
be able to help.”
Three years ago, when an
earthquake hit her home-
town of Puebla, “I cried,” she
said. “So many deaths. I col-
lected clothing and sent big
boxes of supplies.”
She wishes she could
help her co-workers who call
to commiserate. One is terri-
fied she will be billed more
than $1,000 for a colonoscopy
after finding out the hotel
had terminated workers’
health insurance plan. An-
other, an undocumented
mother of five, used a fake
Social Security number to
work and will not be able to
collect unemployment ben-
The housekeepers at Mr.
Cwere expected to be dis-
creet, Lezama said, making
a little zipping motion
across her mouth. But now
she freely describes the
guests she served: the Saudi
prince who came with five
wives and insisted that “no
one look at his face”; Luis
Miguel, the Mexican
crooner, who stayed three
months, dodging paparazzi;
and the Japanese executive
from the company that
marketed Hello Kitty, who
died of a heart attack in his
Mr. C, developed by Los
Angeles investors Bob and
Alex Ghassemieh, boasts
Venetian chandeliers, mar-
ble bathrooms, poolside ca-
banas and affiliation with
Europe’s Cipriani hotel em-
It also was the site of an
alleged 2013 sexual assault
by Harvey Weinstein against
an Italian model — a charge
that figured in his New York
trial and is now pending in
Los Angeles criminal court.
Bob Ghassemieh,
reached by phone, declined
to comment on Mr. C’s lay-
Lezama can’t help think-
ing about the contrast be-
tween the luxury that sur-
rounded her at Mr. C’s and
the circumstances of her dis-
“I tried to stay calm,” she
recalled. “I didn’t talk back. I
gave them my key and my
The manager, she said,
told her that the layoff was
temporary and that she
could apply for unemploy-
ment benefits.
But later, when she
picked up her final check,
she was told her termination
was final, and if the hotel re-
covered in the future, she
could re-apply but would
have no seniority.
“I will have to start at
minimum wage again,” she
said. “That’s what gets to

Virus threatens her way out of poverty

RAQUEL LEZAMAstands outside her home in L.A. with her children, clockwise from top, Monica Ramos, 19,
Alan, 13, and Jesus, 8. Lezama lost her housekeeping job at Mr. C Beverly Hills because of the virus closures.

Photographs byAl SeibLos Angeles Times

Hotel housekeeper

spent two decades

building a life for her

family. In a flash, her

world is upended.

By Margot Roosevelt

RAQUEL LEZAMAwalks home with her daughter last week after picking up
their “grab and go” meals for the family from Manual Arts High School in L.A.

‘I need to sit

down and figure

out what to cut. I

just want to keep

my little family


—Raquel Lezama

Tesla fell victim to the co-
ronavirus-affected economy
in the first quarter, deliv-
ering 88,400 cars worldwide.
In the previous quarter,
Tesla had delivered 112,
Analysts warn that worse
is coming. The U.S. didn’t
begin to feel the commercial
effectsof the pandemic until
March, so second-quarter
numbers are expected to be
hit much harder, with sec-
ond-half 2020 results nearly
impossible to predict.
Chief Executive Elon
Musk’s target of 500,000 de-
liveries this year will now be
“virtually impossible,” said
Dan Ives, who follows the
company for Wedbush Secu-
Ives has lowered his year-
end forecast to 400,000 to
425,000 vehicles, while the

ever-bullish Joseph Osha of
JMP Securities pegs his
forecast at 523,000. But
under stay-at-home restric-
tions of extended duration
and worldwide economic
uncertainty, those numbers
amount to best guesses.
“It’s like a game of blind-
folded darts,” Ives said.
Tesla’s 2020 first quarter
did top the 63,000 vehicles
delivered in the same period
last year by 40%. At the time,

Tesla had just started send-
ing Model 3s to Europe and
was wrestling with serious
delivery snafus.
The first-quarter deliv-
ery total consisted of 76,
Model 3 and Model Y vehi-
cles, and 12,200 Model S and
Model X vehicles. Tesla pro-
duced 102,672 vehicles in the
first quarter, shutting down
production March 24 at its
Fremont, Calif., plant after
the county ordered it to

cease nonessential opera-
tions because of the co-
ronavirus outbreak. The or-
der was issued March 16 but
Tesla ignored it for a week.
Tesla is still valued by the
stock market near $84 bil-
lion, its shares priced like a
hot growth company in good
times. Shares fell $27.06, or
5.6%, to $454.47 in regular
trading Thursday but
surged 11% in after-hours
Tesla’s new China plant
was closed for about 10 days
during the coronavirus out-
break in that country, and
analysts say the plant is
gearing up to produce 3,
vehicles a week, if it’s not do-
ing so already.
That would amount to a
production level of 156,
vehicles. The Fremont
plant’s capacity is 500,000.
That gives Tesla production
capacity for 656,000 vehicles.
The company also plans to
build a major car factory in
Germany, and several states
are already bidding to host a
new U.S. assembly plant
that Musk teased about on

Tesla trackers will keep
an eye on the market recep-
tion of the new Model Y, a
slightly larger hatchback
version of the Model 3. Early
reviewsof the car have been
Model Y deliveries began
March 13, in all-wheel-drive
and performance versions.
Two weeks later, Tesla said it
would start selling the
cheaper rear-wheel-drive
model, with a base price of
less than $50,000 and thin-
ner profit margins than the
fancier options.
Although demand for the
Model Y is yet to be deter-
mined, the Model 3 is show-
ing signs of stress in Europe,
where competition is heat-
ing up.Last year, Musk told
Wall Street analysts that
“even in a recession, world-
wide demand is still some-
thing in the order of 500,
for Model 3.”
Tesla continues to outsell
other EVs in the U.S., but Au-
di’s eTron SUV topped the
Model 3 in Norway during
the first quarter, the first
time a rival has outsold the
Model 3 in that country.

Tesla’s deliveries drop; a bigger hit may be ahead

TESLAdelivered 88,400 vehicles worldwide in the
first quarter, down from 112,000 the previous quarter.

Ding TingAssociated Press

First-quarter decline

reflects only the early

tip of the outbreak.

By Russ Mitchell
Free download pdf