Target and Walmart aren’t protecting staff amid pandemic, workers say

This article is reprinted from The Guardian:

Management at retail giants Walmart and Target are not doing enough to protect staff working through the coronavirus crisis, according to some workers.

As school districts, restaurants and several businesses have closed around the US due to the coronavirus outbreak, large corporate retail stores like Target and Walmart have remained open, but with reduced operating hours. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended all gatherings of 50 or more people be cancelled to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, but grocery and retail stores have drawn crowds of shoppers.

In interviews with the Guardian, several workers at Target and Walmart expressed concerns.

Workers said they were anxious about working in crowded environments, with increased workloads, understaffing, inadequate sanitation protections and lack of increased compensation or paid time off for workers now on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m 64 years old and according to the CDC, I should be staying home and practicing social distancing and in quarantine,” said a Walmart customer service manager in the midwest who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “I can’t do that as I can’t afford to take off work unpaid.

“So I go to work and pray that none of the hordes of shoppers I’m exposed to don’t transmit it to me. The thing that scares me most is getting exposed and passing it to my 84-year-old mother.”

A Walmart warehouse associate in Haines City, Florida, said the number of orders in their warehouse has doubled due to the coronavirus outbreak, with workers getting called in for mandatory overtime shifts, more than 60 hours spread across six days a week.

“Everyone who calls out on a mandatory overtime day gets an occurrence in Walmart’s attendance point system,” said the worker. “Every day we have been doing 80-90,000 orders and it’s not even putting a dent in the amount of orders that are coming in. We were not prepared for this at all.”

Cynthia Murray, a Walmart associate in Laurel, Maryland, for 19 years, criticized Walmart’s CEO for plans to use Walmart parking lots as test sites. “When they’re done going through that drive-thru, they’re going into Walmart stores to get supplies, what about the workers inside the stores?” said Murray. “They are not really doing anything to protect us from the coronavirus.”

A Walmart spokesperson referred to corporate press releases on the coronavirus, and an updated sick leave policy where workers are permitted to take unpaid time off if they don’t feel well, and any workers diagnosed with coronavirus or quarantined will receive up to two weeks of paid sick leave.

Walmart announced on 20 March plans to hire 150,000 workers across the US to meet increased demands due to the coronavirus, and full-time employees will receive about $300 each in bonuses.

Both Walmart and Target have confirmed positive coronavirus cases: a Target employee in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a Walmart employee in Kentucky.

‘Target doesn’t care about its employees’

Several Target workers complained their managers dismissed fears of transmitting the coronavirus to immunocompromised family members at home.

A Target associate in New Mexico has been wearing a N95 protective mask to work due to concerns of transmitting the coronavirus to their young niece, who is going through chemotherapy, when management recently told the associate they needed to obtain a doctor’s note in order to be permitted to continue wearing it.

“They said I would not be allowed to work with it until I had brought back this paper form. I told them it was not worth it to me to risk the life of a little girl. I told them, while trying to hold back tears, that this wasn’t right,” said the associate.

Another Target employee in south New Jersey said their managers claimed their boyfriend, who is immunocompromised, was being “controlling” in response to her request to take a leave through the outbreak. “I told human resources I wanted to take a leave so I don’t wind up killing him, and the response from my managers was he is being controlling and abusive by even suggesting I take time off,” the associate said.

Other Target employees criticized the company for not doing enough to protect workers through the pandemic.

“It feels like Target doesn’t care about its employees. You want to know what they’re doing to help the employees? They’re making one of us clean the store from top to bottom with cheap cleaning tools,” said a Target associate in Mercer county, New Jersey, who requested to remain anonymous.

“During this pandemic grocery workers do deserve to get a little bit extra pay since we are risking our health to work in this hell.”

A Target associate in Fort Myers, Florida, said the company has allocated more labor hours to meet the increased demands, but there is no accountability in how the extra hours are allocated.

“This whole pandemic situation has been poorly run, poorly executed and focused on the almighty dollar over the health, safety and wellbeing of the guests and employees,” the associate said.

A Target spokesperson told the Guardian in an email: “We’ve always taken pride in our clean and well-run stores, and we know this is more important than ever right now. Like many others, we’re taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends regular cleaning as one of the most important preventive measures we can take.

“Health and safety is our first priority, and we’ve put a number of additional steps in place to protect them as they shop, including adding payroll hours to support more rigorous cleaning routines, including ensuring guest-facing surfaces like checklanes and touchscreens are cleaned at least every 30 minutes.”

On Friday March 20, Target announced they are raising wages by $2 an hour for all associates until at least May 2 and extending paid leave to employees over 65 or those with an underlying medical condition.

Michael Sainato writes on civil rights issues for the Miami Times.

Featured image credit: Barcroft Media