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His New Amazon Warehouse Job Got Him Something He Really Wanted From His Previous Job

Theodore Johnson worked full time as a massage therapist at a luxury hotel in Texas. When the coronavirus crisis hit, he tried to get unemployment, but the system was overloaded. That sent him to an Amazon warehouse, where he now works.
Heather King
Theodore Johnson worked full time as a massage therapist at a luxury hotel in Texas. When the coronavirus crisis hit, he tried to get unemployment, but the system was overloaded. That sent him to an Amazon warehouse, where he now works.

Until recently, Theodore Johnson worked as a massage therapist at a luxury hotel spa in Fort Worth, Texas.

He worked about 30 hours a week but was a contractor. So Johnson lobbied management for a staff job to qualify for benefits. That possibility vanished when the coronavirus hit and all his work dried up.

Johnson promptly decided to apply for unemployment. It didn't go well.

"I wasn't able to get through to the Texas Workforce Commission, and I wasn't sure if I was qualified. It was just chaos. The website was crashing. You literally just had a busy dial tone when you called in to the numbers," he said. "So I was just in this limbo state, and I wasn't sure how I was going to pay my bills."

That's when Johnson joined the nearby Amazon warehouse and ended up working the overnight shift filling boxes.

The hourly pay at Amazon is much lower than what he earned as a massage therapist. But he's making about the same weekly wage by putting in much longer hours. He also finally got what he didn't have at the hotel spa: health insurance.

"I've been working close to 60 hours [per week], and that's the cap," he says. "It's a lot of squatting. ... It's hard work."

He plans to stick with the Amazon job for a bit and is reevaluating his career path by taking classes at his local community college.

He said a massage may be one of the last things on people's minds right now, "because we are in a recession and maybe a depression."

Read more stories in Faces Of The Coronavirus Recession.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.