Essential employees given praise not raises

Sara Brownlee, Staff Writer

Employees of grocery and convenience stores across the world are risking their health every day because their jobs have been deemed essential. 

In the United States, many states have recognized the need for grocery store workers and have reclassified these employees as essential emergency workers. This category offers them benefits similar to first responders and health care providers.

Although  grocery store workers were granted some of the same privileges as health care providers, they are not guaranteed most protective gear such as masks to wear while they are on the job. To combat this, the Los Angeles City Council enacted measures that require markets, drug stores, and food-delivery services to provide their employees with “all necessary sanitary cleaners” and time to wash their hands.

Large companies have acknowledged the importance of their employees in many ways. Multiple businesses including Target and Whole Foods recently gave their employees a raise of an additional $2 an hour until at least May 2 as a result of their increased workload in this trying time. 

Despite the increase in wages, these already underpaid employees, some of whom were ready to strike for increased pay last year, are still not being paid what they deserve given the dangerous situation that they find themselves in. Working before the crisis was hard enough, but if an employee were to test positive for coronavirus and is unable to work from home, I doubt that a $2 raise would cover the costly medical expenses. 

Some cities, like Los Angeles are recognizing that their essential employees need access to these tests and treatments and are answering their employees’ concerns about working during the crisis. Recently, the L.A. city attorney drafted an ordinance to protect the health of grocery, drugstore, and food delivery workers. This will provide workers with free coronavirus testing and flexible work hours. Other cities should follow Los Angeles’ decision and provide their employees with benefits if they have the potential of being exposed to the virus.

The pandemic is not the cause of the low wages that food service employees receive, but it certainly shines a light on how underappreciated these workers are. During this time when these people need to risk their health in order to support themselves and their families, they should be provided with the proper benefits to protect them if they do get sick working.