Grocery store staff are working hard to keep the shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo

Grocery store staff are working hard to keep the shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo

Thank you grocery store clerks

Recognizing the sacrifices of our unsung essential workforce.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2020 1:40pm
  • Opinion

I’ll admit it — I’m anxious about going to public places now.

When someone in line behind me starts coughing, I wonder why they’re coughing and fear I’m getting whatever it is (in my mind at the moment, the cough is always COVID-19). Call it paranoia if you like, but I think the fear is justified.

This whole situation feels like a scene from a Max Brooks novel or a George A. Romero flick. That’s clearly an exaggeration, but it’s not far off from how it feels. When I walk my neighborhood, the lack of sounds, people and traffic are palpable.

So many grocery store shelves are bare. That’s a weird feeling. Then they’re stocked again before they’re cleared a few hours later.

But who is doing the stocking? Grocery store workers. They’re also running the cash registers, collecting the carts and restocking the cart sanitizing stations.

Like so many of my generation, my introduction to the professional world started in retail. First as a grocery store clerk, then at a hardware store, and even a stint in the wonderful world of Walmart between undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Retail work, for me, was unfulfilling. Management didn’t appreciate the low-wage workers (a quick look at the paycheck reinforced that notion), nor did the customers who spoke in condescending tones and dropped any semblance of mutual respect and courtesy. When the customer is king, the retail workers are the peasants — that was a hard pill to swallow for me.

The variable schedule was not only unmanageable, it was cruel. It made any sort of reasonable scheduling impossible. A retail worker hoping to interview for a new job only knows their schedule a week in advance, sometimes more and sometimes less depending on the manager’s competence.

Plainly stated, I hated it.

Today, if you’ve not realized that grocery store workers are heroes, you’re not paying attention.

With COVID-19 as contagious as it is, each grocery store worker is very literally in harm’s way to make sure you get your 16-pack of toilet paper. But ridiculous, selfish and shameful hoarders aside, grocery store workers are stocking baby formula, diapers, medicine, soap, produce, milk (both cow and almond), meat and meat alternatives, and grains so we can be clean and sustained. All that while completely surround by ground zero.

Maybe you missed the news, but the grocery workers unions have been working with employers to finally secure fair treatment of the employees in stores throughout our communities. New guarantees include “up to two-weeks of pay for workers diagnosed with COVID-19 or workers required to self-quarantine, before needing to access sick leave and other contractual paid leave” and “agreed to jointly work with state and federal government to treat grocery store workers as first responders and set up a childcare fund for grocery store workers,” according to a March 18 press release from UFCW 21, 367, 1439 and Teamsters 38.

Perhaps many workers feel a new found sense of fulfillment that I never felt in retail. Perhaps. They should, certainly. But the hard truth of this whole situation is most of these workers are not putting their lives in danger out of a sense of community, patriotism or altruism — no, they’re doing it out of necessity.

Decades upon decades of rampant profit seeking of the corporations that employ our local grocery store workers have kept wages low and cruel conditions as the norm. And now, these employees have no safety net to fall back on. Many of these workers still on the frontline likely can’t afford to self quarantine. They have no option but to go to work. They have no option but to find child care while schools are closed, meaning their families too risk unnecessary exposure.

The hard part about it all is there’s not much we can do.

We can’t change corporate greed today. We can’t change their wages.

But we can thank them. It takes a second. “Thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.” And you should mean it. They deserve your thanks and kindness at the very least.

And when there’s a moment to breathe and demand changes from corporate America, we should not forget what grocery store workers have gone through for us today.

Corey Morris is regional editor of Sound Publishing’s Eastside publications in King County. Contact cmorris@soundpublishing.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@federalwaymirror.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.federalwaymirror.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Why should the threat to Taiwan concern us in WA? | Brunell

Unfortunately, what happens in Taiwan doesn’t just stay in Taiwan — it… Continue reading

Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.
The benefits of a public market in Federal Way | Livingston

Federal Way is an enigma. As a planned community built on corporate… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Election 2021: Closer look at King County races | Roegner

The race for Mayor of Seattle will dominate the regional media, but… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Questions surround vaccine exemptions for state workers | Roegner

With about 4,800 state employees in 24 agencies requesting vaccine exemptions, which… Continue reading

Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray serves as Faculty of English at Highline College. Her research interests include postcolonial studies, spatial literary studies, British literature, and rhetoric and composition. Prior to teaching in the U.S., she worked as an editor with Routledge and taught English at colleges in India.
What the Afghan wants to say: Arezo’s journey to America | Guest column

In our little Zoom room, I hear my interviewee break into sobs.… Continue reading

Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.
Diversity and a beacon of hope for Federal Way | Livingston

Diversity has become a “buzzword” used by every city that has a… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Can a Texas-style abortion law happen in Washington? | Roegner

If politicians really want to anger women voters, the easiest way is… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Reasons to ban Gov. Jay Inslee’s natural gas ban | Brunell

Column: Switching from natural gas to electricity is complicated and will impact everyone.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Vaccinations improve our health and employment numbers | Brunell

It is not surprising that COVID-19, which ravaged the world, was disastrous… Continue reading

Most Read