Every day I am amazed by the dedication of the working people I am so proud and honored to represent as President of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW. While the heroes of this battle against COVID-19 are truly our magnificent health care professionals and first responders, there is also a group of unsung heroes who also go to work and take care of the public every day. In “normal” times, these heroes often go unnoticed and have been brought to the spotlight because of the crisis we’re facing.
The workers I’m referring to are those who work in grocery stores and pharmacies in our region and across the country. They are the cashiers checking out your items, the pharmacy tech handing you your prescriptions, the deli clerks and butchers, those keeping the stores clean, and what seems most important of all lately, the stocker unloading bread and toilet paper on to bare shelves before the rush starts again. These unsung heroes leave their families, some dropping their children off at childcare first and others, traveling by public transportation in order to start another day doing work that is crucial for us.
If you have never worked in a grocery store or a pharmacy, you have not experienced what it’s like to have a store overwhelmed because of an impending snowstorm or hurricane. However, you have likely experienced this as customer. Local 338 members have described what they’re seeing in their stores as “two snowstorms and a hurricane on steroids.” For many of the stores who typically average 500 customers a day, they have now seen that number increase to 2,000 people a day. Naturally, workers are incredibly worried about how this virus will affect them and their families, but they have also taken on extra shifts, working six days a week at often 10 to 12 hours a day, all to try to keep some sense of normalcy for the public.
As a customer, you might have noticed that it took some time for the stores to put the proper safety measures needed to protect their employees in place. Please know that for most companies, it was not due to a lack of concern, but for an inability to access these items. Today, thousands of Local 338 members have access to gloves, masks, and soap or hand sanitizer and are working behind plexiglass shield guards if they are a cashier. Unfortunately, not all workers and stores are as properly supplied. However, this is a unique instance where union and management alike are working together to source these PPEs and sanitizing products to make sure both the workers and the public stay safe.
While schools and “nonessential” businesses, like traditional retail, are closed or have shifted to remote operations, those working in grocery stores and pharmacies continue to go to work every day. You may wonder why they do it or why they take the risk? Many Local 338 members (and others working in the field) have told me that they see themselves as simply doing their job and wouldn’t compare themselves to other frontline heroes like doctors or nurses. However, they also recognize that now, more than ever, they are working in places that truly are the keystone holding our communities together.
For that, we should recognize the workers of grocery stores and pharmacies as the public servants they are and give them the gratitude they certainly have earned. The next time you find yourself in your local grocery store or pharmacy, please be kind and take a moment to thank them for risking being out in order to help take care of you and your families. And please, if you don’t have to be out, stay home. That choice can help save an essential worker who does not have a similar choice.
John Durso is president of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW and president of the Long Island Federation of Labor Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW