Breaking News

They Still Have Jobs At Grocery Stores And Pharmacies. Does That Mean They'll Catch The Coronavirus?

With countless businesses closing their doors to stop the spread of the coronavirus, work life has dramatically changed — or ended — for many people around the world.
The lucky ones have jobs they are able to do from home, which they’re hoping to cling to amidst widespread downsizing and a possible recession or depression. Others have already been laid off or sent home from the stores or restaurants they work at, unsure how they’ll pay their next rent check.
But during this crisis, there are still a number of workers who are heading into work each day — even in areas where residents have been ordered to shelter in place. People who work at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other businesses deemed essential, while fortunate enough to still be earning income, are also risking their own health by working and exposing themselves to customers during the pandemic.
These are largely hourly employees, many of whom are paid minimum wage, aren’t always eligible for paid sick leave, and may not have health insurance. And while they’re on the frontlines, ensuring people have enough food and medicine, some say they aren’t being adequately protected by their own employers.

“I can’t risk my own health or my family’s health for $17 an hour,” said Erica Milder, a 26-year-old cashier at Trader Joe’s in Westchester County, New York. “We have been provided with no paid sick leave apart from what we have already accrued and are working in extremely difficult conditions, while the company is making record profits.”
Hope, a 24-year-old cashier at the Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B, wants to wear gloves to protect herself, but she told BuzzFeed News her Houston store’s gloves policy has been unclear and is constantly in flux. (She asked not to have her last name printed for this story).
“You’ll find out if you ask, and depending who you ask, you get a different answer, and the answer might change again,” she said.
One day last week baggers and cashiers were allowed to wear gloves, the next day only cashiers were allowed, and now gloves aren’t allowed for anyone in her store, she said. Several others have spoken out online about workers not being allowed to wear gloves at H-E-B stores, despite the store saying they have gloves available for their workers. (An H-E-B spokesperson referred BuzzFeed News to a section on their website that discussed the company’s sick leave policy, but makes no mention of gloves.)
“At the beginning of the day [on Sunday] we were [allowed to wear gloves] because on Saturday we were allowed to, but by the time I got there on Sunday, they said ‘no gloves,’” Hope said. “And because I didn’t want to take off the gloves, they went and took me off the register and had me restocking the shelves.”

Gloves have been an especially heated topic for Trader Joe’s employees, who have been forbidden from wearing them unless they have a doctor’s note. Workers with the employee rights initiative the Coalition for a Trader Joe’s Union have said the company doesn’t want staff wearing gloves because they don’t look good for customers — despite the fact that customers might prefer them in gloves right now.
Trader Joe’s did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the Coalition spokesperson, the company believes hand washing is more sanitary than wearing gloves. But while on the job, gloves are just more practical for keeping clean. “In reality, gloves are easier to maintain on register,” thee spokesperson said. “You can remove them or sanitize them between customers, they remind us not to touch our faces, and they protect any open hand wounds (eczema, paper cuts, box cuts) from exposure.”
Milder, the Westchester County Trader Joe’s staffer, said she asked her manager if she could wear gloves on the job. She even offered to bring in her own latex pair from home, but was told by her manager it was against company policy. Milder said she explained that she lives with her parents, who are in their 60s, and feared exposing them to the virus. When she asked if she could switch to a different position for which gloves weren’t barred, she said her manager consulted with senior managers, but still declined. “They asked me to clock out and go home,” Milder said.
Milder is now on unpaid leave and doesn’t expect to return to work until the pandemic subsides. She said she called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the official she spoke to told her that her case wasn’t valid and that Trader Joe’s was breaking no laws. She said the official told her that there was nothing workplace regulators could do to force her bosses to allow her to wear gloves. “It’s all left to the goodwill of employers,” Milder said.
The Coalition spokesperson told BuzzFeed News some individual stores have adjusted the gloves policy, but Trades Joe’s corporate office needed to suspend the rule nationally.
“Corporate hasn't adjusted the policy so it's getting people who are just trying to protect themselves in trouble,” the spokesperson said.
More Information

No comments