As Grocers And Delivery Workers Keep America Stable, Debate Erupts On If They Should Receive Hazard Pay

The American economy has been ground to a halt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China. Throughout all this, grocers, gas station attendants, drive-thru cashiers, truckers, health care providers, and delivery workers have all been working tirelessly to keep society stable with a steady stream of supply-chains during a time of unprecedented uncertainty. As the weeks unfold, a debate has erupted if these individuals should receive some form of hazard pay, given that they are performing an essential task that exposes them to a potentially life-threatening illness.
Writing at Eater, Jenny Zhang argued that such workers should receive hazard pay as defined by the Department of Labor: “Additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship,” including “extreme physical discomfort and distress … not adequately alleviated by protective devices.”
“Given the current situation, it’s impossible to conceive of duties like jostling against hordes of panic shoppers as anything but intensely physical and hazardous,” argued Zhang. “The work that these laborers are doing is vital, and should be acknowledged as such, not just abstractly, but materially.”
As of Thursday, the states of Vermont and Minnesota classified grocery store clerks as “emergency workers,” which will provide them free childcare. A coalition of Trader Joe’s employees has also launched a petition calling for hazard pay.
“Trader Joe’s workers – from the distribution warehouses to the stores – need hazard pay now,” the petition states. “As the company rakes in millions of dollars amid the frenzy of people across the country filling our stores to stock up, grocery workers are at the frontlines of this global pandemic and we are terrified. We are exposing ourselves (and our loved ones) to COVID-19. We aren’t being paid for the extra work we’re doing or the risk we’re undertaking. We’re being told we can’t wear gloves. We are terrified.”
“We need our company to have our back by introducing hazard pay at the rate of time and a half, plus guaranteeing forced closure pay,” it continues. “Workers who are typically scheduled a certain number of hours per week need to be guaranteed that if their store closes, they will continue receiving pay equal to their average scheduled wages.”
As of this writing, that petition has garnered over 17,000 signatures. According to Business Insider, Trader Joe’s released a memo announcing to its employees that it would be creating a “special bonus pool” for each store based on the surplus in sales.
“We want to acknowledge the incredible hard work and dedication of our Crew Members in supporting each other and our communities by sharing the financial benefit of this sales increase with our store crew who have worked so hard during the past several weeks, and for as long as this challenge remains,” the memo said.
People on social media have also highlighted the poor treatment some of these workers have received at the hands of irate customers whose patience has grown increasingly thin amidst the pandemic, advising everyone to express gratitude to those who serve us at this time.
“[A] cashier at Whole Foods just told [me] she now spends her lunch breaks crying in her car trying to process how ‘mean and vicious’ customers have been this past week… It’s not only your obligation to look these people in the eye and say ‘thank you,’ but to call these mean people out,” tweeted singer/songwriter Simon Curtis.
“Loud sighs and side-eye aren’t enough,” he continued. “If you witness someone being cruel to a customer service person, risking exposure every day to help YOU get basic necessities, you had better step up to the plate and speak up.”

cashier at Whole Foods just told she now spends her lunch breaks crying in her car trying to process how “mean and vicious” customers have been this past week...

It’s not only your obligation to look these people in the eye and say “thank you,” but to call these mean people out
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