By RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum
Even in the best of times, the holiday season is very stressful for workers at retail stores and supermarkets. Big crowds, irritable customers, hectic days and the need for workers themselves to take care of their own holiday obligations can all weigh heavily on workers’ shoulders this time of year. In 2020, however, with the historic COVID-19 pandemic heading toward a terrifying new peak amidst a second wave, this stress is going to be exponentially worse.
This holiday season, we owe it to these workers to provide comfort, protection, and understanding as they continue to put their lives on the line so that we can all have the best 2020 holiday season that’s possible under these difficult circumstances.
We’ve already seen what the pandemic has done to the front-facing workers who have kept New York and the rest of the country moving as we’ve been forced to dramatically change our lives to fight COVID-19. A recent study in Boston shows that approximately 20 percent of frontline supermarket workers tested positive for COVID-19, and that these workers are up to 22 times more likely to test positive than the general population. At least 108 American grocery store workers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Retail workers have had a tough time too, with fewer hours, fewer available jobs, and the added stress of the pandemic. The same study reported that retail workers reported having increased anxiety and increased cases of depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we struggle with this second wave, we are all concerned about schools closing again and taking care of our families and children. It’s a rough time for all New Yorkers, but for these frontline workers, it’s even worse with the added stress of working through the holidays. Employers need to give serious consideration to renewed “hero pay,” bonuses that recognize the danger these workers face. These workers also deserve additional paid time off in the event that they or someone close to them tests positive for the virus. We need to provide not just safer workplaces, but social support from employers and customers for workers who are helping us through this crisis and a second wave that threatens the progress we’ve made in New York.
And most of all, when we go to supermarkets and retail stores this season, we need to be as considerate as possible to these workers who will be a big part of making the 2020 holidays the best they can be for our families. Let’s protect them by ensuring we are wearing masks and doing it properly, by doing our best to social distance and keep our hands clean, and by staying home if we aren’t feeling well. Most importantly, let’s recognize what they are going through and do everything we can to make this season as anxiety-free as possible. This season, a little kindness will go a long way toward ensuring these workers are able to enjoy the holidays as much as we hope to with our families.