Grocers see deaths from first-worker viruses
Large supermarket chains are starting to report their first coronavirus-related deaths, causing store closures and mounting fear among grocery workers as the pandemic deepens across the country.
Two employees at a Walmart store in the Chicago area have died of covid-19, Walmart Inc. confirmed on Monday. A merchant Joe’s worker in Scarsdale, NY, and a greeter at a huge store in Largo, Md., Also recently died of covid-19, the companies confirmed on Monday.
“We were broken when we learned that two employees in our Evergreen Park have died [Ill.] Business, and we mourn along with their families, “the Bentonville-based retailer said in an emailed statement. Walmart did not provide any additional information about the employees or when they died.
Phillip Thomas, 48, and Wando Evans, 51, who both worked in a store in Evergreen Park, near Chicago, died in late March, according to the United for Respect labor group.
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The company said the workers had not been in the store for more than a week. Still, Walmart has “stepped up” its cleaning and sanitizing practices, including thoroughly cleaning key areas of the business.
The store recently passed a third party safety and environmental impact assessment, as well as a health department inspection, the retailer said. After consulting with the city’s mayor, Walmart said the store was still open.
Last week, a Walmart e-commerce fulfillment center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, closed for several days for cleaning after nine employees tested positive for the virus, local newspaper The Morning Call reported. Walmart said it confirmed cases there but failed to provide the number.
Although more than 40 states have ordered shutdowns of unnecessary businesses and instructed residents to stay home to help contain the spread of the virus, supermarkets are among the retailers that remain open. Thousands of food workers have continued to report being at work as U.S. infections and death rates continue to rise. Many report long shifts and extra workloads to keep up with increasing demand. Many workers say they don’t have enough protective gear to deal with hundreds of customers a day. Dozens of grocers have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past few weeks.
Industry experts say the rise in worker infections and deaths is likely to have an impact on grocers’ ability to retain and add new workers if they want to quickly hire thousands of temporary workers. Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, hires 150,000 workers, while Kroger adds more than 10,000. Many are offering an additional $ 2 an hour and promising masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. However, according to supermarket analyst Phil Lempert, it could become increasingly difficult to find workers willing to work on the front lines for little more than the minimum wage.
“One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was that staff weren’t allowed to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted,” he said. “You are starting to get proactive now, but it will still be a lot harder to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers. We will see people say, ‘I’ll just stay out of work instead of risking my life for a temporary job.'”
Some companies have started installing plexiglass sneezers on cash registers, requiring customers to stand in line 6 feet away. The country’s two largest grocers, Walmart and Kroger, start checking employee temperatures at the start of each shift and providing gloves and masks for workers.
The extra precautionary measures are found amid a wave of strikes and petitions from workers aimed at getting employers like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, and grocery delivery company Instacart to take extra measures to protect workers. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)
These efforts are likely to take on a new urgency, analysts said, as supermarket workers across the country start seeing coworkers contracting Covid-19.
A Trader Joe employee with underlying health conditions died of Covid-19 early Monday morning, spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said. The Scarsdale, NY store where the employee worked was closed until Thursday to give employees “time to process and grieve,” Friend-Daniel said in an email. Employees will continue to be paid during the shutdown, plus an additional two days of paid vacation, she said.
Trader Joe’s Brooklyn and Philadelphia stores were temporarily closed on Monday for additional cleaning and disinfection.
In Maryland, Leilani Jordan, 27, a greeter at Giant’s Campus Way South store in Largo, died last week.
“She said, ‘Mom, I’m going to work because no one else is going to help the seniors get their groceries,” her mother, Zenobia Shepherd, told the Washington Post. “She only went to work when she couldn’t breathe.”
Her last day of work was March 16, according to Giant spokesman Daniel Wolk. Jordan tested positive for the coronavirus in late March and died on Wednesday.
Wolk said the company was cleaning and disinfecting the store when it learned of Jordan’s diagnosis and is advising employees.
Information on this article was contributed by Abha Bhattarai of the Washington Post and Serenah McKay of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Business on 04/07/2020