Grocery Clerks: High-risk workers on the front lines

Grocery Clerks are among the high-risk jobs in these virus-infected times. At least 41 have died in the United States and thousands are infected.
Some supermarkets call it a "sneeze shield." It helps protect the cashiers.

At Food Lion, my bad knees and a bum hip that have bothered me for decades collapsed brought me down to one knee and as I pushed the grocery cart in the aisle.

A young Food Lion helped me stand back up.

“Are you OK?”

“Yes, I replied,” and as I turned to thank him, he was already back to his pushcart to restock shelves. I didn’t get a chance to see his nametag.

I finished shopping and took my single bag out to the car without again seeing the young man who helped me. I wanted to thank him again and tell him that I appreciate his work in what has become a high-risk job.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that at least 41 employees of supermarkets in the United States have died so far from the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Thousands more have tested positive and are either hospitalized or in quarantine at their homes.

Julia Pollack, a labor economist for the site ZipRecruiter, tells the post that job listings for grocery clerks have increased about 60 percent in the past four weeks.

“The language in job postings has become more desperate,” Pollak said. “Grocery companies are saying there’s an ‘urgent need’ or that they need workers to ‘start immediately.’ It’s becoming more difficult to convince workers to put themselves at risk.”

Food Lion gives employees masks and gloves. Most supermarket chains also take the temperature of employees before each shift begins. Chains like Kroger and Food Lion now have large plexiglass shields at cash registers and market spots on the floor to keep those checking to maintain the required “social distance” from each other.

“Grocery workers are risking their safety, often for poverty-level wages, so the rest of us can shelter in place,” says John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University. “The only way the rest of us are able to stay home is because they’re willing to go to work.”

Adds Abha Bhattaral of The Washington Post:

Public health experts generally say nurses, doctors, paramedics and other medical workers have the highest risk of exposure to the coronavirus. But grocery workers also come in close contact with large groups of people, often without meaningful protective gear. They are less likely to have paid sick leave or the financial means to take time off if they feel ill.

The sector’s relatively low pay — grocery cashiers averaged $11.43 an hour in 2018, Labor Department data show — has also become a bigger part of the calculus.

At least 1,500 supermarket workers throughout the country have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 900,000 grocery employees at chains such as Kroger, Safeway and Giant. Nearly 3,000 members are currently not working because they are quarantined, hospitalized or awaiting test results, the union said.

–The Washington Post

Others are risk are those who bring us take out food at drive-in restaurants like DJ’s in Floyd, deliver pick up food from the entrance of The Floyd County Store or drug stores like CVS.

At a Chicago-area Walmart, the manager sent Wando Evans, an employee of 15 years home on March 23 because he displayed flu-like systems.

On March 25, he was found dead. Another employee of the store, Phillip Thomas, 48, died from the virus four days after that.

In Seattle, a longtime Kroger Employee told the Post two co-workers tested positive for the virus and 20 others are home sick or waiting for results of their tests.

Kroger’s response? The company told the workers to not discuss their infections with anyone, especially shoppers or the media.

We have a good crew at our Food Lion, Slaughters, Express Mart and other marts. The same can be said of those who bring us our food at DJs, the Country Store and other food establishments that continue to feed us in these difficult times. Ditto for CVS and the Pharm House. Thank them for their help and congratulate them for being there.

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