Berkeley restaurants

The workers who feed America are exhausted. Now they face Omicron


She describes the experience as “the scariest thing you can imagine in your life. I don’t want to go through this again.”

But the Mcdonalds (MCD) She currently works in Hollywood, Florida for $ 10 an hour doesn’t prioritize her safety or the 30 or so employees she manages, she said. This McDonald’s, like most outlets in the chain, is owned and operated by a franchise and sets its own compensation and benefits policies. McDonald’s said this year it was increasing wages at company-owned stores.

She wants McDonald’s to “impose” the safety issue on its franchisees and customers – to “push the safety effort” – and is frustrated that the company does not force customers to wear masks or do a better job telling workers when an employee Tested positive for Covid-19.

Edie, a member of Fight for $ 15, which advocates for higher wages and benefits for workers, is pushing for more than better Covid-19 safety protections. She wants McDonald’s to raise wages, guarantee paid sick leave and provide health insurance – the “biggest thing” she wants – for all workers, regardless of their franchise status. Health insurance is the “most important thing” that she wants to

She has three different jobs in the fast food industry, often waking up at 5:30 a.m. and working until 2:00 a.m. the next morning. Sometimes she sleeps in her car in the McDonald’s parking lot and returns there during the day for quick naps. But she still struggles to pay her bills.

“My body is tired but I’m going anyway because I need it,” she said.

The owner of the McDonald’s location where Edie worked before he fell ill last year said he maintains strict hygiene standards, including contact tracing and mask warrants for staff.

“The health and well-being of my restaurant employees, customers and the Broward County community is my top priority,” said Brad Ashlin, owner of the McDonald’s franchise, in a statement. “We continue to make changes to our catering operations to help keep our customers and crew safe in accordance with local regulations and advice from health experts and the CDC as new variants of Covid emerge. . “

McDonald’s did not respond to a request for comment on its allegations about the conditions of its current restaurant.

The toll of low-wage work in America

Omicron’s rapid surge in the United States is putting new strain on already exhausted and fed-up store and restaurant staff after nearly two years of working through a deadly pandemic.

Often hailed as heroes at the onset of the health crisis, the people who feed America cannot stay at home. Workers such as cashiers, cooks, waiters, salespeople, stockmen, guards, store managers and others, have faced endless security challenges and risks – for low wages and often without strong paid sick leave policies and benefits.

These workers in direct contact with customers faced daily exposure to a deadly virus while on the job. At least 213 retail and grocery workers have died from Covid-19 and more than 50,000 have been infected or exposed, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

These workers have also struggled with the rapid end of the risk premium that some companies offered them at the start of the pandemic. They also dealt with understaffed stores, angry and sometimes violent customers refusing to wear masks, cheeky shoplifters “traumatizing” staff and shootings in stores.

All of this has an impact on the physical and mental health of workers, said Ken Jacobs, president of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Berkeley.

“The Omicron variant brings back a lot of these problems,” Jacobs said. “Frontline retail and food service workers are once again faced with difficult decisions about health risks and the need to put food on their own tables.”

Such conditions and pay have also contributed to a labor shortage in the service sector and campaigns for union representation in companies, including Amazon (AMZN), Starbucks (SBUX) and General dollar (DG).
About 1.6 million jobs available in accommodation and food services and 1.1 million in retail were left unfilled in October, according to the latest The data of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both industries recorded the highest rate of private sector worker quits in October.

I can’t stay at home

Due to their size, it is impossible for the best retail and restaurant employers to manage the behavior of their customers and employees at all times. Many chains have also responded to growing workers’ discontent by raising their minimum wages and increasing benefits.

But interviews with workers in recent days reveal their distress at working amid the latest wave of Covid-19. Workers are also enraged by the way they were treated during the pandemic by their employers and say their voices have been ignored.

Liz Wesley, floral manager at a King Soopers supermarket in Colorado Springs, Colo. That earns $ 20.51 an hour, said she was “exhausted not having support in the store and feeling like we were not respected ”.

At least five workers are sick right now, she said, but the store – owned by Kroger (KR)– does not tell employees whether or not they are absent because they have Covid-19.

“I don’t feel like the company is keeping us informed,” Wesley said.

Customer behavior has been a major concern for her, and she is still troubled by a mass shooting in March in a King Soopers two hours away in Boulder.
Dollar General puts workers' safety at risk, says Labor Department

Many customers have stopped wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, she said, but they are not held to any standards.

“King Soopers has placed its sales and customers, however rude, unruly and unwilling to keep their distance, above the people working in the store.”

She is exhausted and feels taken for granted at work. But she has no other choice.

“If I could have stayed home and made a living, I would have. I don’t have that luxury.”

King Soopers has launched a resource and support center for workers, families and others struggling with the March shooting. A spokesperson for King Soopers also said the channel offers a “culture of opportunity” and careers with competitive salaries and benefits, as well as flexible hours.

Kroger paid an additional $ 1,200 to part-time workers and $ 1,760 to full-time employees to “reward and recognize them” during the pandemic, a company spokesperson said in an email.

“The safety of our associates and clients remains our top priority,” said the spokesperson. As Kroger prepares to go through the next phase of the pandemic, he is changing his policies to “continue to encourage safe behavior.”

“Front line of cultural wars”

Allies of retail workers are also rocked by the Covid-19 outbreak and advocate for tighter safety protections in stores and higher wages for workers to help them pay for the rising prices of the grocery store.

The UFCW sent a letter this month to 63 retail chains calling on them to take measures such as promoting the wearing of masks for customers, distributing free PPE to workers, reinstating measures of social distancing in stores, the provision of paid sick leave for immunization appointments, and the implementation of “wage inflation protection”.

Store mask policies have also changed as the pandemic continues and could become a flashpoint again.

Most chains have stopped requiring customers to wear masks after the vaccine rolls out in the spring, unless there are local mandates in place. Employers have been reluctant to put their workers in the difficult position of controlling mask and safety rules for customers, and there have been dozens of confrontations and even violence against workers over masking policies.
A sign reminds customers that masks are mandatory in their New York City store on Monday, December 13, 2021.
Walmart (WMT), Amazon (AMZN) and others in recent days have started requiring their workers to wear masks again, but have not made any changes to their policies for customers.
Brian Mayer, a professor in the School of Sociology at the University of Arizona, has studied the mental health of grocers during the pandemic. Him and a team of researchers find that 20% of Arizona grocery store workers surveyed last year experienced severe levels of mental distress during the pandemic.

One of the main contributors to this stress has been customer behavior.

Now, as Omicron spreads and masking becomes an important means of keeping people safe, Mayer fears workers will once again be “on the front lines of culture wars” around masks, social distancing and home care.

If clients have grown accustomed to not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing over the past few months, there might be more resistance to go back, he said.

“It will be the front-line workers that customers encounter on a regular basis, such as workers in retail and food service, who bear the brunt of their frustrations.”