By Payton Gift
People working during the pandemic may have been dubbed “heroes” by publications like Reuters and Fox News, but they aren’t always being treated as such.
Emily Thorner, a nutrition clerk at Fred Meyer, said that customers often treat her like she doesn’t exist. Many don’t even try to maintain social distancing when she stocks shelves.
“I work on the floor stocking and conditioning shelves,” Thorner said. “I don't have a layer of plexiglass protecting me. Out of 100, maybe five are polite, courteous and grateful. So I really really have to savor those five.”
Consumers need to be aware of not only their own safety during this pandemic, but the safety of essential workers as well. When you break the six-foot distance recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, you’re communicating to workers that you don’t care about their health or protection.
Thorner said that when the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order was first issued by Gov. Jay Inslee, the store was busier than she had ever seen before.
“Think about the Superbowl, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Christmas Eve and then multiply that by 10,” Thorner said. “Not a single piece of freight that came in on any given day was put in back stock. Everything sold, fast. It's still like that. There are days where there's just nothing left to stock.”
Workers are being forced to work harder than ever before and for what? To get paid minimum wage and have people treat them as disposable?
Allison Gauslow currently works as a direct support professional for adults with developmental disabilities, but before that they were working at our local Target right as the pandemic began.
Gauslow said while working at Target they felt completely unprepared to protect themselves from the virus. They said their hours were drastically increased to keep up with demand despite most supplies running out as soon as they were stocked.
“During my time at Target, most customers did not see us as heroes,” Gauslow said. “I got multiple complaints about our lack of stock of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Some customers demanded to know when we would get restocked. No employee at Target knows when stock is coming. We wish we did but we don't.”
Labor and Industries Department spokesperson, Matthew Erlich, said that the department has tried to make health and safety recommendations accessible for both workers and employers.
“We have guidance for grocery store and agricultural workers on how to take precautions against the virus on our website,” Erlich said.
The LNI website suggests that employees stay six feet away from customers and fellow workers.
Gauslow said their coworkers also feared exposure to the virus because customers weren’t following social distancing guidelines. Many employees don’t have access to the health insurance provided by Target because they haven’t worked there for over 12 months or work less than 20 hours a week, according to Gauslow.
“Employees at Target have not been treated like heroes; we've been treated like garbage,” Gauslow said. “It's important to know that no Target employee signed up for this, and they deserve better.”
Simply calling essential workers heroes does nothing to help make their day easier. If we truly value the sacrifices they are making, we need to show it in our actions.
Walgreens customer service associate, Jessica Steward, said that working during the pandemic would not have been her first choice.
“What keeps me working is 100% paying my bills,” Steward said. “I would not be working during this if I could afford not to.”
Though Steward said that she usually likes her job, the threat of COVID-19 has made working with the public more frustrating.
“Interacting with customers has been an interesting dichotomy,” Steward said. “Some people treat me way nicer than I have ever been treated before in a retail setting. Then other people get mad because I have to remind them of social distancing.”
Steward said she appreciates seeing regular customers, who used to come in every day, limiting their trips to once a week or strictly for essentials. It helps lessen the number of people in the store, which helps keep the environment safer for staff and customers.
Ivy Locke, a server at Boomers Drive-in, said that it helps relieve some of the anxiety workers experience when customers maintain personal health precautions.
“I definitely appreciate when customers have masks and gloves on when I come up to their car,” Locke said. “It makes me feel a little bit safer knowing they care about my health too, and not just their own.”
Essential workers may be heroes, but that doesn’t mean they have to be martyrs. Part of the duty of the public is to protect workers by protecting themselves.
For guidelines regarding social distancing visit the CDC’s website.