Essential workers

(Huyen Tran Tran / Daily Titan) 

The first week the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, I was on vacation from work and was supposed to leave for New York. Having no idea how serious coronavirus was, I canceled the trip due to fears of catching it and bringing it back to my widowed mother.

On my first day back to work as a dairy clerk at Sprouts, the frenzy surrounding COVID-19 had set in, leaving almost the entire store empty. There were no eggs, no milk and even no kombucha, as people assumed probiotics would kill the virus. 

Since I was hired in 2017, Sprouts hasn’t been known for taking care of its workers and it stuck to that motto when the pandemic hit. As shutdowns began, the majority of places left open to the public were grocery stores, hospitals and other small essential businesses.

So, grocery workers, like myself, were basically the lifeline for people to get their necessities to survive. But we definitely weren’t treated like saviors. During the first two months of customers buying out toilet paper and water, we were treated as expendables to the higher-ups.

Employees were not supplied enough gloves, were given one single-use doctor's mask, and after the second month finally given a pay compensation. We were given a $2 raise that would be added on to our paychecks at the end of the month, so the company could tax us more. At that point, I would get an extra $150 at the end of the month to risk my life. 

Is $150 really worth it? Is it really worth mine and evidently my mother’s health?

For me, and I’m sure for many grocery workers, I have to pay for car insurance, credit debt, phone bills, food and school supplies. So, a leave of absence with no pay was not an option.

It’s disgusting how grocery corporations, like Sprouts, have taken advantage of their workers this year and capitalized on sales.

However, if I could speak out for other essential workers, I have a few things to say.

I understand not wanting to give us an increase in pay, but at least take into consideration the workers who were already working with the company prior to the pandemic. Maybe we could receive more paid time off, paid therapy sessions or at the very least 50% discount off groceries, as opposed to the measly 15% discount we get as employees who are putting ourselves and our families at-risk every day. 

Let's talk about those therapy sessions. All-day I would watch the news and see COVID-19 cases rise, just waiting for the day one of my coworkers caught the virus. Working at a grocery store that is a primary source for bacteria to travel and stick to objects doesn’t give me peace of mind either. There are tons of doors in the refrigerated sections, products that customers will pick up and put back and countless credit card transactions, especially now with many businesses struggling with coin shortages. 

Not to mention the customers who refuse to wear masks in store, resulting in a typical “F--- Sprouts,” after telling those maskless customers to leave. Having to deal with a raging virus while Donald Trump supporters yell and spray spit on me has left me with the anxiety of infection every time I left work. All for a good $14 something an hour. 

The inability to social distance in customer service has added an increased emotional impact. Almost a quarter of people who work in customer service jobs, like grocery stores, have reported issues with anxiety and depression, according to Science Daily, a scientific news platform.   

I still experience random COVID-19 scares at least once a month. Sprouts and other grocery stores, at the very least, need to offer therapy sessions for those who have been mentally unwell since the pandemic’s start. 

But if grocery stores won’t allow paid therapy sessions, then the companies need to offer a minimum of one-month paid leave. Since the start of the pandemic, I have never felt so drained from working, especially when I’m in constant fear of catching a life-threatening virus. 

We deserve some type of substantial benefit for being a frontline worker, not just some half-hearted billboard trying to thank us and lift our spirits. 

Grocery store employees shouldn’t have to suffer through the pandemic just because they work essential jobs. 

Offering therapy sessions, one-month paid leave or even 50% employee discount on groceries are some simple requests, but I highly doubt any of it will come to fruition. Until then, if you are a grocery worker and feel these same anxieties, just know you aren’t alone. 

We’ll make it through this, even if it feels impossible.

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