Keeping Heroes Safe in a Storm

By: Briana Hicks

COVID-19 has shifted the atmosphere within the nation, leaving Americans to view the meaning behind essential differently. On the front lines, working long hours and extra shifts is grocery workers. They have become the staple point and necessity to ensure that Americans everywhere have access to the things that supply and provide their daily needs. Every state in the U.S. has either closed their borders, ordering residents to stay home as much as possible or have implemented restrictions in day to day activities. But grocery workers have become upstanding heroes who risk their lives to continue to help community members, establishing a new normal in America.

Recently, grocers are beginning to report cases of COVID-19 to the CDC, in branches of their stores throughout the country. Grocery workers had to endure responsibility for daily tasks throughout a shift around the masses of people. According to the Washington Post, supermarkets made grievous mistakes early on in the face of the pandemic with their employees. Supermarket analysis Phil Lempert expressed, “One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was not allowing employees to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted to. They’re starting to become proactive now.’” Slow-moving grocers nationwide left their team members exposed to shoppers who were careless with safe health practices, such as covering coughs and sneezes in enclosed and crowded areas. Reddit user and grocery store manager of a large unnamed chain, gnarlboots, pleaded with others that when shopping in the store to keep distant from the workers. “Do not come in with any symptoms, don’t excessively pick over the produce and touch everything,

“We are putting in more hours than any of us would like, being exposed to more people than any of us feel comfortable with,” Reddit user said.

Multiple grocery workers denied participating in an interview when asked. Many company unions that represent the grocery industry have implemented contracts preventing them from speaking directly with the press and media. All interviews are now being conducted by a company spokesperson. Kalia Pang, a spokeswoman with Sprouts, addressed the subject and admitted that Sprouts had implemented the same policy in their stores. Team members and store managers are not allowed to give interviews to the press and media. Pang shared how stores were moving forward in light of COVID-19. Sprouts are equipping team members with protective gear if they do not already have access to it themselves. “We are now requiring all team members to wear protective gear while working in the stores,” she said. Pang acknowledged that out of the 32,000 team members currently working with the company, they are experiencing workers test positive with the virus in the past few weeks. When a team member tests are positive, even if he/she is not exhibiting any signs of illness, they are encouraged to stay home and self-quarantine. 

As the number of cases increases along with a need to control the spread, chain stores have begun placing safeguard policies throughout stores to protect workers and shoppers alike. The Washington Post shared that some companies have installed plexiglass sneeze guards and distancing customers six-feet apart in check-out lines. Walmart and Krogers (Smiths) have begun checking employee’s temperatures at the beginning of the shift and now provide employees with gloves and masks. Many companies, such as Sprouts have established a limit to the number of shoppers within stores at one time. If shoppers reach an excessive number, store managers will guard the door to ensure the flow of traffic is meeting guideline standards. Grocer businesses Smiths and Sprouts placed signage to help continue social distancing throughout the aisles.

On the other hand, a few companies have been slow to the curve to safeguard workers. NPR recently did an article on the protests by Amazon workers in Staton, New Jersey, and Instacart independent contractors across the nation. On March 30, Instacart grocery workers nationwide walked off their jobs in protests of lack of safeguard measures in place for employees and an increase in pay for hazard risks. While an Amazon warehouse in Stanton left workers feeling unsupported and higher chances of catching COVID-19. NPR reporters Alina Selyukh and Shannon Bond wrote, “One worker expressed that he touches over 2000 different items every day, and he’s not wearing any protective gear. Says that if Amazon saw them as family, that they’d protect them as such.” The workers have the option to take unlimited unpaid leave, but many workers can not afford to be without income for a long extended period of time. Therefore, many employees are still working, as the company has shifted towards checking employee temperatures at the beginning of shifts. Amazon is just one of the many, who has adopted a new normal of cleanliness and health safe practices to continually work to protect workers and consumers alike.


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