Retail Workers ‘Heroes’ in Pandemic, but Need Healthcare

The coronavirus pandemic is putting significant pressure on some retailers to expand their workforce and adapt to growing demands for essential goods, such as pharmacy products, food, and take out dining. Companies like Walmart, CVS and Amazon, have all announced plans to hire tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of new employees.

Patricia Campos-Medina, is co-director of the New York State/AFL-CIO Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University’s ILR School. She says that at this critical time, we need to demand more than just an increase in jobs.

“This hiring spree is a response to demands of the market. This pandemic has shown that retail and service workers are essential workers and the heroes of this crisis. But while higher wages are a quick short-term incentive for these workers to stay on the job, we need to demand more from corporate actors. These workers need appropriate protections and a commitment that their employer will pay their healthcare cost if they get sick,” Campos-Medina says, adding that, “Increasing young workers exposure to the virus has long term implications for our healthcare system. Who is covering their future healthcare cost? And what happens if younger workers get exposed and carry the virus without symptoms? If we do not train retail workers to be safe and provide them with the proper training and equipment to stay healthy, and medical assistance if they get sick, we are just prolonging the crisis. These companies would be better corporate actors if they offer free healthcare coverage for everyone who comes to work and guarantees paid sick-leave if they get sick.

At this critical time, we should think big and ideas like ‘Medicare For All’ should not be eliminated as foolish. Encouraging workers to stay home if they don’t feel well, or seeking medical assistance when ill should be encouraged in a time of a pandemic. But for millions of retail workers, seeking medical help is not an option because they lack healthcare. In order to stop this pandemic, we must make healthcare available to anyone who needs it. That is the game changer; healthcare access that is not dependent on the bottom line profits of corporations.”

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