The Washington Post follows up on the mass shootings at a Tennessee Kroger last week noting that "such events are no longer exceptional: at least three other deadly shootings have taken place at supermarkets this year, continuing a recent trend.
"According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, shootings at grocery stores have risen in recent years. Between 2000 and 2020, 78 people were killed in 28 such incidents, FBI data shows."
The Post writes that "for grocery workers, the threat of violence adds to a growing list of hazards they have faced during the pandemic, from an increased risk of coronavirus infection to belligerent customers refusing to wear masks … Grocery stores have been a recurrent setting for this kind of violence in part because they are open from early morning until late at night, they cater to a broad demographic range which occasionally results in interpersonal friction, and, even in the pandemic, they have been one of the few retail environments that were consistently open."
The Post notes that "while some of the shootings were at smaller markets or convenience stores in gas stations, major chains such as Walmart and Kroger have experienced multiple shootings at their locations since 2018. Earlier this year, a gunman killed 10 people at a King Soopers outlet, owned by Kroger, in Boulder, Colo."
- KC's View:
The Post article makes it clear that Kroger - and, I'm sure, other stores - believe that they are doing what they can to both prepare employees for the possibility of a mass shooting and minister to their needs after one has taken place.
At this moment, though, many employees have to be thinking that even if they are being paid $15/hour or more, is it worth it to put their lives at risk? There are a lot of jobs out there at the moment, and the broad reconsideration of work choices that many Americans seem to be having could accelerate if this issue is not addressed via both public and private policy in some sort of meaningful and permanent way.
It is so much more than this, and I think that we're going to see a lot more coverage of retail worker issues in the mainstream media. The New York Times, for example, this morning has a piece about Walmart employees that is entitled, "‘Every Day Is Frightening’: Working for the Top U.S. Employer Amid Covid."
"As shuttered offices cautiously debate the merits and logistics of reopening," the Times writes, "a parallel sphere of workers - retail employees, day laborers, emergency personnel, medical staff, and so on - seemingly inhabit another country entirely. In their case nothing ever shuttered. Often their jobs just got really, really hard … Elsewhere in the country, the conversation has begun to move on, away from early Covid alarm and into something more guardedly speculative. What will post-pandemic life look like? How have our priorities shifted? But for vast swaths of the nation, largely untouched by doses from Pfizer and Moderna, it remains late 2020 in many ways."
Thousands of retail workers, the Times writes, "seem trapped in an America-right-now vortex, a swirl of politics, belief, resentment and fear. At fast food restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses, nursing homes and anywhere else frontline workers show up each day, a deep schism has taken hold. Workers nervous about the virus find themselves at the mercy of those who aren’t."
One Louisiana Walmart employee tells the Times, "If I ask people to wear a mask or socially distance at work, they get mad and tell the manager. Then I have to get coached. If you get coached too many times, you lose your job."
To be fair, it isn't like Walmart has done nothing. Crowson tells the Times that the company "has worked hard to protect the health and safety of associates and customers. This includes administering no-cost vaccinations, enhanced cleaning practices, daily health screenings and temperature checks for our associates, special bonuses and an emergency leave policy.”
But there remains a chasm between management and labor about whether this is enough. “They say we’re essential,” an employee says, “but they treat us like we’re disposable.”
Expect more stories in the media and, I suspect, a chasm that could turn into a canyon, and maybe even an abyss that could swallow up the management-labor construct that keeps the retail business functioning. A world of "parallel spheres" strikes me as being unsustainable.