And you think your job sucks?
Once hailed as heroes who kept us all from starving during lockdown, grocery store workers are now subject to torrents of abuse, pay cuts and COVID-19.
Five months into the pandemic, as states open up, these essential workers are suffering from low morale, low pay and dangerous working conditions, according to a shocking new report in The Washington Post.
Across the country, many stores including Krogers, Meiers and Publix incentivized their workers at the start of the coronavirus pandemic by giving them a boost of $2 an hour and offered bonuses. But that’s now gone and workers are left with additional duties — sanitizing, policing customers on masks and occupancy — while facing financial ruin.
Angel Manners, who processes vendor deliveries at a Meijer store in northern Kentucky, told The Washington Post she has never felt so demoralized adding, “We’ve lost our hazard pay, and people are quitting every day. Those of us who are left are really stretched thin — working so much harder for $11.50 an hour.”
Manners claims at least a dozen colleagues have quit in the past month alone while the rest of them deal with an angry public and the fear of COVID-19.
“Some customers were appreciative in the beginning, but now they’re just rude,” she told the Post.
Among the many people interviewed by the Post, many also told the paper they can’t afford to take unpaid time off now, even if they feel unwell.
“At the beginning, they valorized what was deemed a dead-end job, but four months later, they don’t even treat us like humans anymore,” Fox Wingate, who works at a Safeway in Maryland, told the Post. According to the Commerce department there are 2.7 million grocery workers who make, on average $27,000 a year and at least 130 grocery workers have died from COVID-10 with more than 8,200 testing positive for the virus since March.
Manners agreed — saying several colleagues have tested positive, but anyone who decides to self-quarantine isn’t compensated and workers who try to call in sick are pressured to come in.
“Managers are making decisions on their own, saying, ‘You have a cough, but you’ll be OK,’ ” Manners told The Washington Post. “You don’t want to say ‘no’ because you’ll lose your job.”
Frank Guglielmi, a spokesman for Meijer, told the paper “employees undergo temperature checks and other health screenings before each shift. Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus or is considered high-risk can apply for as much as four weeks of paid leave.”
A Trader Joe’s employee in Manhattan who has tested positive for coronavirus antibodies twice told the paper she shows up for work even if she’s not feeling well because she has no sick leave left.
“The unknowns are the worst part of it,” she told the Post. “I do notice I’m out of breath more often, but I don’t know what that is. It’s this constant fear for your physical health — not just from coronavirus but also from people who don’t want to follow the rules.
“It’s my career even though it may not be a well-respected one,” she continued. “I’m not feeling great today, so I’m sitting here debating: Do I go in? Do I not? If I take time off for feeling sick, I’m treated like I’m guilty until I prove otherwise. It’s a terrible position to be in.”
Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s, told the paper, “Anyone who is concerned about working may take an unpaid leave without question,” adding that “employees who received health benefits from the company before the pandemic will continue to receive insurance through the end of the year, regardless of how many hours they work.”
Meanwhile, workers are also dealing with more responsibilities, and now have to disinfect store fixtures, enforce social distancing and make sure customers are wearing masks.
The internet is full of videos showing people refusing to wear masks and getting violent when asked to do so like this man at an Arizona Farmer’s Market who violently raged when told to mask up or an attack in Manhattan when Trader Joe’s asked two men to cover their faces.
“The pressure is wearing away at us in great chunks,” a mid-level manager at a Kroger store in Kentucky told the Post. “We’re getting it from both ends: customers and corporate.”
Kristal Howard, a spokeswoman for Kroger, told the Post the company has “provided paid emergency leave and financial support for child care during the pandemic. It also gave employees an extra $2 an hour — which it called a ‘hero bonus — for two months ending in late May and gave them a one-time bonus that topped out at $400.”
Meanwhile, Tonyalee Henderson who works at a Publix in Jacksonville, Florida, has had her hours cut, and only got a raise of 50 cents an hour.
“At first it was like, ‘You are so great for risking your life,’ ” she told the Post. “Now the atmosphere is completely different. … So many of us are on the verge of quitting — we’re having to do the work of three people while risking our health.”