How are grocery store workers, delivery people affected during the pandemic?

  • Grocery store employees have begun dying from coronavirus
  • They are demanding better protection and higher pay
  • Some chains have offered raises to their employees

Most of the states in the U.S. have ordered all non-essential businesses to close and employees to stay home. Supermarkets around the country remain open, however, providing essential products to isolated Americans everywhere. Many grocery stores have even hired a wave of fresh workers to keep up with demand. These employees continue to show up to work despite the escalating risk of contamination, but now that grocery store workers have begun to die, even more attention has been paid to their plight.

Delivery drivers are also finding themselves at increased risk as the pandemic continues to ravage the world. Employees working for services like Instacart and Shipt are working long hours at low pay, often with little to no protective gear. Many employees don’t have health insurance through their work, a particularly troubling matter during a global health crisis. Strikes, sick-outs, and online petitions have begun cropping up around the nation as employees demand better protection, higher wages, and access to coronavirus testing.

Some retailers have responded by offering bonuses and temporarily raised wages. Whole Foods raised hourly pay by $2 and Walmart offered each full-time hourly employee a $300 bonus. Instacart similarly raised pay and offered bonuses, and grocery stores across the country are implementing enhanced safety procedures. Still, many employees say the measures aren’t enough. 

As businesses begin reporting their first COVID-19-related employee deaths—at least four grocery store workers died in the first week of April, and by mid-April, the Washington Post reported that 41 had perished—these concerns are even more prevalent. In acknowledgment of the increased risk, many workers are demanding hazard pay. They want locations with confirmed COVID-19 cases closed, and they want guaranteed paid sick leave. Delivery drivers are asking for their companies to provide personal protective gear, which employees currently must provide for themselves. 

“One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was not allowing employees to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted to,” supermarket analyst Phil Lempert told Bloomberg. “They’re starting to become proactive now, but it’s still going to be much tougher to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers. We’re going to start seeing people say, ‘I’ll just stay on unemployed instead of risking my life for a temporary job.’”

Sources: Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Vox, CNBC, Dallas Morning News, Washington Post

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