coronavirus grocery workers

My friend Daniele Darbonne [not her real name] has worked as a grocery store picker for years, filling online orders for pickup or delivery at a national chain.  It’s rarely an easy job, but has become exponentially more difficult since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and significantly increased demand for groceries—particularly online grocery orders. Daniele and her coworkers are working practically endless overtime to meet the increased demand for orders, and it’s taking a toll on their health. I spoke to her on behalf of Chowhound to get a look inside the current state of working to fill online grocery orders, and to find out what she wants you to know about shopping during the pandemic.

Chowhound: What are your biggest concerns at work right now?

Daniele Darbonne: Overwork and lack of social distancing. We’re working so many hours, it’s got to be lowering our immune systems. And there’s absolutely no way to social distance in our department. We are either wandering around customers or climbing all over each other in the back room. We have a lot of older people in my department, and that’s extra dangerous for them right now.

I’m also concerned about the amount of orders my company thinks our department can do in an hour. We’re behind every day, despite utilizing other departments every single day. We do not have the staff, and cannot properly train any new staff or other departments with the amount of hours we have.

Related Reading: How to Protect Grocery Workers From Coronavirus

How has your work changed since the coronavirus hit the United States? Is your job harder now than it was earlier this year?

DD: My job is a LOT harder now. By far. We are doing more than a Sunday. We are doing more than the holidays. We have already lost people to quitting and sickness. We’re having a hard time with giving people days off, and everyone’s working about 12+ hours every day.

What is your store doing to protect you from contracting the coronavirus? What about protecting customers?

DD: We are not getting screened at all. Our store has put up one-way signs in the aisles and cut store capacity in half. If we’re uncomfortable with the working conditions, we can take a 30 day unpaid leave. We have plexiglass in front of the cash registers, gloves, face masks, and hand sanitizer, and door handles and other high-touch surfaces are cleaned every couple of hours. We are getting hero pay, paid 14-day leave if we have to quarantine, and we can take a 30-day unpaid leave if we feel uncomfortable.

distilleries making hand sanitizer for coronavirus

Javier Zayas Photography / Moment / Getty Images

Related Reading: How to Wash & Wear a Face Mask So It’s Effective

Have you or any coworkers gotten sick? How did your store respond?

DD: Yes, we’ve had quite a few people get sick and have to take off. Thankfully, the store won’t let you be at work if they know you are sick right now. I recently came back from being sick myself.

Is anyone coming to work sick?

DD: I’m sure people are coming in sick, though [I don’t know for certain]. To be honest, I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to focus on anyone else. I can hardly tell anyone hi.

Is your store bringing in more employees to help?

DD: My store is currently trying to hire more people, and overall the company is trying to hire a ton of people (mostly temporarily). The problem is that a lot of people are nervous (rightfully so) of taking a grocery store job at the moment. Also my area is pretty wealthy, so they don’t have to work retail. So hiring people who live further out when they can apply for stores closer to their houses or apartments is hard.

Are you getting any additional compensation or benefits for the heavier workload and hazards? 

DD: Yes, we are, thanks to our union. Unfortunately they had to push pretty hard, because at first our company didn’t even want us to wear gloves or masks, as they would make customers nervous.

How do you think your store could improve its response to the coronavirus?

DD: I think our store could help by having someone by the door only letting a small amount of people in at a time, even if it causes a line. They should be cutting capacity for our online ordering department so we don’t overwork our staff to the point of exhaustion.

coronavirus shopping tips: what to buy, what to avoid

Chris Whitehead / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Are shoppers taking recommended precautions like staying six feet apart, coming in one person per family, wearing masks, and wiping down carts?

DD: Some are taking it seriously, like wearing masks and gloves, trying to keep their distance, getting in and out as quick as possible. Unfortunately we get a lot of people who are coming as couples, or even with their older kids who should have no problem staying home by themselves.

[W]e get people who are constantly coming up and putting phones in our faces and asking where things are. And there’s the same few coming in every few days, or even every single day.

What do you want consumers to know about grocery shopping right now?

DD: Please be patient with us. Despite how grumpy and tired we look, we honestly want to help and give you a great experience. We are just so overwhelmed and overworked that we can hardly think straight. Our bodies are breaking down from stress and straight up running. Please understand: we are trying our hardest.

Play Your Part

How to Shop for Groceries During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

Header image courtesy of zoranm / E+ / Getty Images

Jessica Merritt is a writer and editor based in the Houston area. Co-owner of board game brewery Battlehops Brewing, Jessica loves beer, board games, and is addicted to grilled cheese sandwiches. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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