Thursday, June 13, 2024

While New York pauses, essential workers don’t

Oh, how the tables have turned.

Parents often tell their children to “work hard” or “go to college” unless they want to make minimum wage at a grocery store, McDonald’s or any other job that doesn’t require a degree and how it would be shameful to take food orders and restock shelves. Well, those low-class clerks and cashiers are pretty much carrying the world on their back during this pandemic.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the world with New York being on the top of its hit list. The state currently leads among the world in confirmed cases, according to the New York Post. Given the “New York State on Pause” executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, residents are undergoing their third week in self-quarantine — while essential retail workers provide critical services.

Key Foods grocery store hasn’t had much trouble adjusting to the new conditions, given the understanding and intelligent Key Food management team. Like good employers, they instantly provided workers with necessities like masks and gloves when the outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization March 11. In addition, a large plastic screen has been installed over card scanners to prevent any contact.

Minimum wage employers acknowledging worker’s needs? Who would’ve thought?

Last month, several Bronx McDonald’s locations under Catherine Perna, owner of seven McDonald’s stores in the Bronx, provided employees gloves and face masks for no additional charge after some expressed safety concerns. This might seem trivial to those who’ve never worked in a McDonald’s, but let’s just say employee concerns used to be taken with a grain of salt. A worker could come in with the most bloodshot eyes, palest face and scratchiest voice, but  still be told to get to work. On one occasion, I’ve seen a worker allow themselves to vomit in the employee bathroom just to prove how sick they are.

McDonald’s requires workers to bring a doctor’s note to the shift after a callout to avoid suspension or termination. It’s safe to say most wouldn’t risk their jobs for a day off.

Even the customers are treating workers differently. Before the pandemic, customers would be the most impatient creatures known to man. Constant complaints about waiting in line for five minutes, yelling at a cashier for making them wait so long after clearly seeing them deal with five customers before them and angrily grabbing their food while proudly raising the finger.

To follow social distancing guidelines, grocery stores like Key Food allows only 30 customers in its store at a time. A security guard monitors outside customers and leads one inside the moment another exits. It’s surprising how well this system is working. There is no time limit to shop, which can lead to extended waiting times. Sometimes, two people will be left waiting while other times it’s about seven to 10. The workers have seen no fights, complaints or negative comments about the system. Customers know that if they are asked to leave from a local grocery store or fast food location, they might be left with no food. Everyone is treading lightly.

It looks like it takes a pandemic to get customers to respect a store and its workers. This is probably the only positive thing to come from COVID-19. I’m not downplaying the seriousness of the virus. I’m just noting how respectful and kind customers can be when they want to.

Despite the increase in respect, workers are making the same wages with less hours. Emily hasn’t been affected much, given the high demand groceries and toilet paper.

However, AS&O Deli Workers have seen hour cuts given the store’s decreased hours. AS&O cut its operational hours from 18 to 14 since the start of the pandemic. This leaves employees with significant hour cuts given the business decrease.

There should be a temporary wage increase for these workers given the situation, especially because of the increased customer visits and prices.

A lot of grocery stores find their shelves empty of popular toilet paper brands like Charmin and Scott. Customers are then left with two choices: spend the extra money on overpriced toilet paper or succumb to the less pricey, but very cheaply made, off-brands.

Key Food stocks its shelves with Panda toilet paper priced at $8.49 plus tax for four rolls and Bath Tissue toilet paper priced at $3.69 plus tax for the same amount. Obviously, people are willing to spend the extra money for toilet paper because of the demand, and probably would rather do so because using cheap toilet paper is unpleasant. Grocery stores have to be making more money if they’re successfully selling overpriced items. Therefore, workers should receive at least bonuses for risking their health.

I’m sure if these workers weren’t on the front lines ringing up our produce, the United States would have become a dystopia by now. Respect is a start, but why don’t employers hand over the money these workers deserve?


Email Mataeo Smith at

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