I close the register many nights, so I know my store’s revenue has practically doubled since the coronavirus hit. But we workers haven’t gotten any extra money, even though we’re risking our health, and our families’ health, to keep the stores running. Louisiana’s governor is expected to lift parts of the stay-at-home order soon. I don’t think our state is ready for that and I know my co-workers aren’t.
We often work alone because of bare-bones staffing. I’m a full-time worker and on a typical day, I work from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., and for the first three hours of my shift I’m by myself. When my relief shows up at 4, I often can’t take lunch right away because the line is around the corner. I often have to pause the checkout line to run outside and grab ice or propane, or help a customer retrieve a product from one of the top shelves, then reopen the register.
But now it’s a lot more dangerous to work alone. Retail workers have always faced high risks of workplace violence. Before I started my job here, one of my co-workers was robbed at gunpoint. I’m afraid we’ll become more of a target for robberies because everyone knows we don’t have any security and people are getting desperate. The unemployment office is overwhelmed, so a lot of people haven’t gotten any relief yet.
And of course, I’m afraid to catch the coronavirus. More than 300 customers come in each day. I’m constantly reminding people to stay six feet apart, but there’s no way to limit the number of people in the store, especially when I’m the only person working.
We’ve always had a lot of homeless customers and I make sure to treat them with respect. But it’s scary to have so many people in close quarters who can’t take care of basic hygiene, especially since we don’t have enough protective equipment. We receive small shipments of gloves every couple of weeks, but always run out within a few days. We didn’t receive any masks until mid-April. There are no plexiglass barriers around the registers. When someone coughs, I joke with them — “We have a strict one-cough-per-customer limit!” — to let them know I’m watching and they need to keep their distance. But I’m on edge throughout my shift.
I was bringing my own mask to work with me, and I got a sinus infection. But I didn’t want to call out, because I don’t have any paid sick leave; and 92 percent of surveyed Dollar General workers believe they don’t either. Recently the company, which owns many of the dollar stores in the state, announced that we can take paid time off if we contract the coronavirus, but we still can’t get tested, so I don’t know how much that’s worth.
Now that my 4-year-old daughter Harmony’s school is closed, I have to quickly line up child care when I get my work schedule. My manager posts the schedule in advance, but it changes often, so I always have to check it. My better half has worked the same job for 10 years and our family counts on that income. Since he works nights, I try to make sure he gets enough rest during the day. It would be great to work only when he can take care of Harmony, but I was hired with “open availability” which means I have to be ready for any shift. If I tried to limit my availability now, my hours would probably be cut in half and we can’t afford that.
Like many parents in retail with unpredictable work hours, we rely on close friends and family members to watch Harmony while I’m at work. Harmony’s aunt, my cousin, my sister and even my hairdresser all pitch in. But I try not to ask anyone to watch her more than once or twice a week. Several of them have their own children, and Harmony is on the autism spectrum so she has special needs; she’s still potty training and her language skills aren’t as developed, so that can make it more difficult to care for her.
For all of this stress, Dollar General is planning to give me a one-time bonus of $300, which will be much less after taxes. Part-time workers will only get half of that. A one-time bonus is insulting when I still make just $10.75 an hour, and some of my part-time co-workers just $9 or $8 per hour. The company’s chief executive, Todd Vasos, earns more than $10 million a year. The bonus doesn’t even compensate me for the time I spend cleaning myself and my clothes after work so I don’t get my family sick. It doesn’t come close to fair compensation for the risks we’re taking.
And we can’t count on stable hours or income, even though dollar stores are incredibly busy right now. As lead sales associate, I’m officially full time but I’m not guaranteed any hours. My manager tries to make sure I get at least 32 hours each week, but some weeks I work just 29 hours.
Things can’t go on like this. We deserve hazard pay and better scheduling. We deserve to be taken care of just like we do for our customers.
Source: The New York Times