Dancy is a front-end supervisor who oversees the store’s cash registers, self-checkout kiosks, customer service, and liquor departments. In late December, he worked 11 consecutive days due to staff shortages caused by the spread of the highly contagious variant Covid-19.
Now, Omicron’s rapid spread is putting new pressures on already exhausted essential workers after nearly two years of work during a deadly pandemic. But, unlike millions of office workers, they cannot stay at home and earn a living.
Employment at the store where Dancy works is at its worst level since the pandemic, even lower than it was during the first wave in March 2020, said a 62-year-old store host at the local Food and Trade Workers Union. He added that employees have resigned in recent months and have not been replaced by management. The store had to close early on some days due to staffing restrictions.
The latest wave of workers calling out is adding additional responsibilities to Dancy and the staff who have to keep shelves full, help customers and complete other tasks. Some customers also shop without a mask, which makes him feel unsafe.
“Every day was a struggle,” Dancy said. “I feel like I’m exhausting myself. I’m constantly tired.”
Two weeks ago, he was working on a busy Sunday when the store was understaffed. This was the first time in 30 years that I thought I didn’t know more than I could do and wanted to do it. “
I can’t stay at home
The demographics of the more than 30 million essential frontline workers are very different from those who can work remotely.
For example, women, who make up 47.4% of the country’s total workforce, account for 50.5% of about seven million grocery workers. Blacks account for 11.9% of the workforce, but they account for 14.2% of grocery employees.
They are reluctant to impose mandates, nor have they asked for frontline workers to be vaccinated. Industry groups sued to block the Biden administration’s authorization of the vaccine to large employers. Instead, companies offer cash bonuses and other incentives to encourage workers to get vaccinated.
“Very few people make enough money just to get by,” the researchers said.
Maria Molina, who works at a Target store in Lynchburg, Virginia, which caters to online customer orders and curbside delivery, said she is struggling to keep up as Omicron reduces staffing levels.
“We still get a large number of applications every day. It’s even harder because we don’t have a lot of people to help us,” said Molina, a member of the Target Workers Unite.
She said morale is low in the store, and her co-workers are frustrated and exhausted. She believes that the objective should be to give employees a hazard pay to reward them for working under difficult conditions.
After working at Target since the start of the pandemic, Molina has begun looking for jobs outside of the retail and service industries.
“It will be a lot less stressful and you will be less physically demanding,” she said.