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Elk Grove Citizen

Front Line Workers Hard at Work

Apr 22, 2020 12:00AM ● By Story and photo by Susan Maxwell Skinner

The Carmichael's Raley's supermarket has almost 80 staffers working during the COVID-19 crisis. Presenting a cheerful front are florist Kamellia Bonev (left) store manager Nathan Smith and courtesy clerk Tyler Juba.

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - They stock, they mop, they serve. In stores deemed vital during the COVID-19 crisis, staff keep calm and carry on. Health workers are universally and deservedly applauded. But food provision is equally crucial and, a month after restaurants and retailers closed, three million American grocery workers are serving longer hours with greater risks. When COVID is conquered and medals are assigned, let’s remember our stores as a battle front line.

Shop workers are professionals, some with high corporate ambition. But they’re also parents, spouses and caregivers. And – you can see it in many faces – they’re stretched to the max.  A Manzanita Avenue cashier last week reported his shift time doubled. “Six weeks ago, I worked 30 hours a week,” he recalls. “Now I’m doing 60 hours. We’re just so busy and there’s not enough staff. My paycheck is good. But we’re all exhausted.”

Keeping shelves filled is a herculean chore. A stocker rejoiced as quitting time neared: “Oh boy, I can’t wait till I can get up and do this all again tomorrow.”

Staff health is as valuable as any store commodity and supermarket bosses are protecting their teams. In many markets, shifts begin with compulsory temperature checks. Gloves and masks are allowed for staff – but not yet mandatory. Quickly-erected Perspex screens divide cashiers from shoppers. Cart handles are constantly sanitized and customers’ reusable bags are forbidden on counters. All through the industry, increased worker risk is recognized. Many workers are sacrificing family time to self-isolate at home. Some corporations are providing compassionate staff leave.

Extra customer protections have also been implemented.  Our re-education begins in measured spaces at we line up for opening times. We form similar lines to check out. We order home deliveries and the discounted sacks of staples now offered to seniors for curbside pickup.

We encounter masked fellow shoppers without a blink and don’t touch produce more than necessary. Our days of scooping bulk muesli from a bin are gone – perhaps forever. We respect retail hours set aside for seniors and the disabled. As Americans used to plenty, we’ve quickly acquired a wartime acceptance of shortages. If we find hand-sanitizer, we share the retail location –with happy-face emojis– on social media. We celebrate toilet paper purchases like prospectors finding gold.

Even as comfortable consumer habits are disrupted, perhaps a kinder, gentler shopper emerges. We share we’re-all-in-this-together smiles as we line up; drivers surrender coveted parking space to seniors. Samaritans take groceries to the house-bound. We’re told to be good to ourselves and to others. Well, most of us have more time now, so why not?

Above all, let’s treat our grocery workers like the front line heroes they are. Let’s applaud them as they arrive for work. Let’s ask after their health. Let’s buy a bouquet in the floral department and give it to a cashier. And let’s thank these troopers from the bottoms of our hearts.

Manager Nathan Smith is a smiling presence at Raley’s Fair Oaks Boulevard. “Keeping a positive attitude is the best thing we can all do,” he considers. “Store teams are working extra hard. Getting a smile and a thank you is our best reward.”

Footnote: Raley’s corporate CEO Keith Knopf advises against grocery hoarding: “The food system in the United States is the most sophisticated and robust in the world” he says. “If we all normalize buying behavior and resist the unnecessary need to stockpile, everyone can have what they need.”