Black Friday could prove to be uniquely dangerous this year.
Black Friday and the days leading up to it are typically a very intense time for retail workers. The volume of customers drastically increases, requiring a much larger amount of work at a much faster pace. It’s a difficult time for in-store store associates and warehouse workers in a normal holiday season. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic still surging, especially in the United States, this holiday season will be anything but normal.
Labor activists, including workers nonprofit United for Respect and representatives from the labor union UFCW, have been calling on large retailers like Amazon and Walmart to increase precautionary measures for their workforces during the holiday season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, retail workers both in and out of the storefront may find themselves even more exposed to potential infection than before. Even though many stores around the country currently enforce pandemic safety precautions like masks and social distancing, those measures may be incompatible with the sheer volume of customers Black Friday typically brings in. As such, activists have been asking for hazard pay, paid sick leave, and outbreaking monitoring, among other precautions.
“Associates like me are scared,” Walmart worker Melissa Love told the BBC. Love has been working in a California Walmart for five years, and expressed concerns that a shopping surge at her location could turn into a super-spreader event that puts the health of both customers and employees at risk.
“Working Black Friday this year comes with an obvious danger,” Love said. “I do not believe Walmart should be trying to entice crowds into our stores on Friday and risk a super-spreader event.”
The UFCW has echoed the concerns of workers like Love. “Simply put, frontline workers are terrified because their employers and our elected leaders are not doing enough to protect them and stop the spread of this virus,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said.
“As holiday shopping begins this Thanksgiving, we are already seeing a huge surge of customer traffic. Unless we take immediate actions beginning this holiday week, many more essential workers will become sick and more, tragically, will die.”
Neither Amazon nor Walmart have commented publicly on the matter, though in the latter’s case, they have been trying to corral some customers to their online storefront for sales instead of physical locations. Amazon, which has had at least 20,000 employees test positive for COVID-19, has enacted face mask requirements, temperature checks, and extensive cleaning procedures for its warehouses.