Understaffed to handle the newfound crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees at grocery stores have been asked to help whatever department is in need.
The change is even more acute for employees like me who work in a kiosk within the store. In less than three weeks, we are having to adapt to a new normal.
For a Vons barista like myself the makeup of our work day has been dramatically altered.
With less people filing in for Starbucks and weekly sales dipping 30 to 40 percent, it’s our job to be of whatever service we can to the store. We now find ourselves bagging groceries, checking customers out, controlling lines, and cleaning.
Unfortunately for my Starbucks co-worker, his new duties cleaning the chicken case actually put him in harm's way. When applying degreaser to the case he splashed the chemical in his eyes, forcing him to spend over an hour flushing them out.
For customers, they are now asked to wait in lines to enter the store as a way to keep only around 80 people inside at a time — including workers. Even if you are only coming in for Starbucks you’re required to wait through the line which has hurt business.
Some of the new precautionary changes to the store have actually been beneficial while other changes are more of nuisance.
The one positive change is that glass dividers have been added between customers and checkers which can block us from infection. However, they covered card readers in cellophane which does nothing when everyone still touches the reader anyways. Baggers are also no longer allowed to use customers’ reusable bags, however they can still touch and put away all the groceries that were picked off the shelves which is asinine.
It also concerns me how many people wear gloves only to touch things such as straws, or more alarmingly, their face.
To handle the increased demand for cleanliness the store hired employees whose sole job is to clean and disinfect for the entirety of their shift. They cycle through the store constantly disinfecting carts, baskets, shelves and anywhere else cleaning is required.
At my store, the paranoia surrounding the pandemic truly hit when a customer fainted in the store. The majority of people inside of the store — workers included — were left on edge. When walking in for groceries people would ask for daily updates, hearing the news of what had happened. Luckily, the majority of stress was relieved when his test finally came back negative.
However, there are still days where things are more interesting than usual.
Just the other day I had a customer react negatively to an employee coughing only once while washing their hands. Another customer told the store manager to go bother someone else when he explained the social distancing guidelines while they were in line.
Fortunately, shoppers have been respectful for the most part and many make an attempt to thank workers for doing their part by coming in to work daily. For a service based department like Starbucks we have also seen an uptick in tips, with customers often gracious of us still being open.
In addition to customer appreciation, workers have received a slight increase in hourly wages for hazard pay.
While life inside of the grocery store isn't horrible it is quite different. At the very least we are still getting paid, and for the time being, it’s a reason to get out of the house.