In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, there are certain sectors where workers don’t have the luxury of working from home. They are on the frontlines, providing much-needed services to people. Those include healthcare workers like doctors and nurses, but they also include service workers like grocery store employees. Now, some states are recognizing the crucial nature of that work — Minnesota and Vermont have classified grocery store workers as “emergency workers,” qualifying them for free childcare while they keep America fed.
As more and more states face massive closures, including schools and daycare centers, employees at grocery stores must continue to show up to work, putting themselves at great risk to do so. They interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of people per day, increasing the chances that they will get sick. Why? Because grocery stores, during the coronavirus, are considered an essential business — one that won't close even amid massive city-wide shut downs.
In light of this, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an order called “Care for Children of Families of Emergency Workers,” which classified grocery store employees as “essential tier 2 workers” and therefore “critical to the response of COVID-19.” As such, districts are instructed to “make every effort to provide care for school-age children” of these workers via the closed schools (people caring for the children of emergency workers are also considered emergency personnel). In Vermont, public safety commissioner Michael Schirling told the VTDigger that his office also planned to add grocery store workers to the list of essential employees.
The move comes as more and more grocery store employees speak out about the conditions they are working under. Whether it is healthy Whole Foods workers being asked to share their sick days with sick coworkers or the Trader Joe’s Union speaking out about the risks of their work.
“Trader Joe’s won’t let us wear gloves, they won’t give us hazard pay, and they won’t give paid sick leave for high risk workers,” the union’s Twitter account wrote. They are asking the company for hazard pay with a petition that has been signed by over 16,000 people, noting, “Crewmembers are putting their lives at risk to serve our communities.”
With grocery store workers risking their health and safety to make sure others have access to food, designating them emergency workers is the least the country can do. Ideally, other states will follow suit — or a federal mandate will come down — granting grocery store employees all over the country the same benefits.