During the pandemic, essential workers have become public heroes. These frontline workers include tens of millions of retail employees, from those who stock our grocery shelves to those filling orders for Amazon.
With so many people seeing firsthand how low-wage workers make our society function, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our society so that everyone can earn quality pay and benefits.
But beyond symbolic displays of gratitude, essential retail workers have not yet seen this transformation.
At Walmart, the largest private employer in the country, workers are still not receiving adequate hazard pay, safety protections, or paid leave. The company remains the top employer of workers who are forced to rely on food stamps and other aid.
At Amazon, employees still face rigid limits on bathroom breaks and other policies that compromise their health and safety in the midst of a pandemic. At least 20,000 Amazon employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
These issues are deeply personal to me.
For four years, I worked at my local Walmart as a cashier and later as a customer service manager — all while raising my son as a single mother and working on a bachelor’s degree. I started out making only $7.78 an hour and was never able to get a full-time position, let alone a stable schedule.
I understand the stresses faced by retail workers at our country’s largest employers, including struggling to pay bills and not being able to care for a sick child because of unpredictable hours and low wages.
Despite the challenges of the job, I got my degree in social work and now support retail workers across the country as an organizer for United for Respect. This national organization of working people fights for bold policies that would improve lives, particularly those in the retail industry.