Workers at chains like Kroger, Costco, and Waffle House are on the front lines of an increasingly violent war between mask supporters and opponents
Retail workers at chains, including Kroger, Waffle House, and Costco ,are increasingly caught in the crossfire when it comes to enforcing store or state policies on personal protective equipment. Some shoppers refuse to wear masks or face coverings for political reasons. In some cases, confrontations between store workers and customers have resulted in deadly violence. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Kristine Holtham, a Kroger employee from Lansing, Michigan, recalled the last time she requested that a customer follow store rules and don a mask or face covering. The man refused to comply. Instead, he looked right at Holtham and said, "I don't give a damn about your health." The Kroger meat department employee described the incident to reporters during a United Food and Commercial Workers International press call, adding that she and her Kroger colleagues have increasingly begun to run up against shoppers who simply refuse to wear masks or face coverings for ideological reasons. "Kroger ended our 'hero pay,' but the crisis is not over," Holtham said. "I face each day with anxiety and it gets worse when I see customers refuse to wear masks. I am a mother and my children need me to stay healthy."Kroger recently decided to stop its $2-an-hour pay bump, instead providing a $400 bonus. Kroger did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment. "The employees are downright afraid to ask people to put on masks," Holtham told reporters on Wednesday. "Believe me, if you ask someone to put on a mask, it's like asking them to throw their gun away." As stores, states, and local governments encourage people to wear mask in public, retail workers are bearing the brunt of the backlash. And with such clashes on the rise, there have been a number of violent incidents endangering the lives of workers. Family Dollar security guard Calvin Munerlyn was shot and killed in early May at one of the retailer's Michigan stores, after telling a shopper that she needed to wear a mask to shop at the store. The shopper's father shot Munerlyn in the back of the head later that day. Last week, a Waffle House customer opened fire, shooting an employee at the Aurora, Colorado location, after being turned away by a cook for not wearing a mask. Neither Waffle House nor Family Dollar have policies on if customers have to wear masks. Workers were attempting to follow state orders in Colorado and Michigan that require or encourage people to wear masks when they leave their homes. Workers are stuck in the middle of a culture war
Retail workers have also faced backlash over other safety policies that companies have rolled out to keep customers and employees safe during the coronavirus pandemic. A woman in Oklahoma City shot three McDonald's employees after she was told the fast-food chain had closed dining rooms due to the pandemic. And, earlier in May, a crowd outside a Costco in New Rochelle, New York, became aggressive when the warehouse opened 30 minutes later than expected, resulting in the police being called. "In 30-plus years of studying retail and crisis situations, we have never seen a situation of customers being so rude to hourly employees," Larry Barton, a professor of crisis management and public safety at the University of Central Florida, told Business Insider's Mary Hanbury. "It's demoralizing and, as we saw with the shooting of the security guard, a sometimes deadly environment," he added. But UFCW International President Marc Perrone said that many retailers are failing to fully back or protect frontline employees on the issue of enforcing mask policies. He said that businesses "don't want to drive off their customers" by taking stricter measures. Perrone advocates for retailers to hire security guards to enforce PPE policies. "We have been pushing for that for quite some time now, and the reason being is that these workers are not management, the consumer does not look at them as management," he said. Masks have become a political symbol
Masks have become increasingly politicized during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts say that everyone wearing a mask in a store is one of the best ways to make shopping safer for everyone involved, allowing businesses to reopen. However, "anti-maskers" have said that policies requiring people to wear masks infringe on their freedom. Costco faced boycott threats when it became one of the first retailers to require all customers to wear masks in stores. Others rallied around Costco, voicing support for the new safety policy. A Whole Foods store worker told Business Insider's Hayley Peterson that customers were shouting at them on a daily basis. The employee, and others in this article, were granted anonymity in order to speak frankly about the situation without fear of retribution. "I have had people yell at me for not wearing a face mask, and had people yell at me for wearing a face mask," the Whole Foods worker said. A worker at the Gap told Business Insider that customers refusing to wear masks puts her and other employees in a stressful and uncomfortable position. Gap is encouraging shoppers to wear masks, but not requiring it — something some shoppers see as permission to go mask-free in the store. "I just keep in mind that, [if I] get sick, I might be good to go, but my parents will not bounce back the same way," the Gap employee said. "I don't want to be a health hazard to them."SEE ALSO: A Family Dollar security guard was killed after he refused to let a customer into the store because they weren't wearing a mask. Experts say acts of aggression are a terrifying trend on the rise in the retail sector. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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'It's like being in a sci-fi nightmare film': Whole Foods employees say Amazon workers are crowding stores, ignoring virus protocols, and hounding them for help as online orders surge
Summary List Placement Amazon's online grocery business is booming, and some Whole Foods employees say it's...Summary List Placement Amazon's online grocery business is booming, and some Whole Foods employees say it's causing a crush of problems in stores. Workers who fill Amazon Prime Now orders — which are purchased online for delivery or pickup from Whole Foods stores — are in some cases clogging aisles, ignoring virus protocols, and exacerbating what Whole Foods employees claim is severe understaffing, according to interviews with seven Whole Foods employees in six states, including three managers. All employees except one requested anonymity to protect their jobs. A manager at a Northeast Whole Foods store called Prime workers "vultures" that "come in and pick every department clean" before Whole Foods employees can fully restock empty shelves from the previous day. "The Prime picking starts at 6 a.m. They are picking stuff off the shelves from every department and there is no one to refill it," the manager said, while adding that his store suffers from understaffing. "We have pallets of groceries just sitting in the aisles and they are desperate to get it on the shelves." When Amazon Prime employees — or shoppers, as the company calls them — can't locate a specific item, they must approach a Whole Foods employee and ask for help. If the item is out of stock, then the Prime shopper must scan a QR code belonging to the Whole Foods employee in order to continue working, employees said. "What that has led to is already chronically understaffed teams having to stop what they are doing to help assist a Prime shopper to find this item and give them the code," the Whole Foods manager said. This QR-scanning process is one of the most frustrating parts of the Prime shopping program, workers said. "We were bombarded with these people asking us questions when we were trying to do our own jobs," said Warren Dearman, who recently left his job at a Brooklyn Whole Foods store in part over issues with Amazon Prime shoppers. Prime shoppers are also unhappy with the QR-scanning requirement, according to one Amazon shopper in Weehawken, New Jersey. He said requiring the scans is a helpful training tool for new shoppers. "But for seasoned employees, it's overkill," he said. "You are annoying someone else because of a stock problem." An employee of a Philadelphia Whole Foods store said Prime shoppers crowd around her when she's trying to stock shelves. "I'm basically just a human QR code," she said. "I'm trying to do my job and I have to stop every 5 minutes to help a Prime shopper and then have them scan my QR code. Sometimes there are so many of them that a line forms behind me to scan my QR code." The program's success has also made it hard to keep shelves full, she said. "I could put out the blueberries and 10 minutes later they are gone because the Prime shoppers have bought them all," she said. In reponse to this story, a Whole Foods spokesperson cited unprecedented growth in demand for online grocery. The spokesperson also highlighted the company's tests of dark stores, which are closed to the public and function only to fill online orders. Whole Foods recently opened its first permanent online-only store in Brooklyn. "Online grocery delivery demand experienced unprecedented growth this year, and as we evolve our offerings in real-time, we are constantly evaluating how we can address challenges and work more efficiently," the Whole Foods spokesperson said. "We're proud of the ways our teams are adapting to improve our shopping methods and the overall ordering experience." Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, did not respond to a request for comment. Tensions are rising as Amazon Prime orders surge Americans are buying more food online than ever before amid virus concerns, with nearly every major grocer reporting a rapid rise in online grocery purchases in recent months. Amazon has been no exception. The tech giant said in its most recent quarterly earnings report that online grocery sales tripled in the quarter, when compared with the same period last year. Whole Foods' South Street store in Philadelphia is so busy with Prime orders that it has run out of space to pack and hold the orders until they are picked up, an employee of the store said. So the order-staging area has spilled into an adjacent parking garage, where Prime shoppers pack groceries on a half dozen plastic picnic tables strewn across empty parking spaces and then store them on nearby metal racks. Inside Whole Foods' stores, Prime shoppers crowd aisles and make social distancing difficult, and they are often staring down at their phones and not watching where they are going, several employees said. "They are everywhere," the Philadelphia Whole Foods employee said. "It's like being in a sci-fi nightmare film." An employee who works a San Francisco-area Whole Foods store also cited issues with crowding. "Prime Now shoppers are completely unconscious and pose a huge risk to both employees and customers," he said. They are "running around the store as fast as they can to fill orders as quickly as possible" and appear to rarely glance up from their phones, he added. He said his store is overrun with Prime Now orders, and by mid-morning will have as many as 150 orders in the daily pipeline. "In some cases the store might be empty of the public shopping, but zipping around the store will be all the Prime Now shoppers," he said. A Whole Foods spokesperson said all in-store workers abide by the same safety measures, including social distancing, wearing face masks, and daily temperature checks. The company also cited a study by the research firm Ipsos that named Whole Foods Market the top grocery retailer for its COVID-19 safety measures. The researchers said that employees were wearing masks properly in all the Whole Foods stores they visited. Whole Foods directly manages some Amazon shoppers Amazon initially hired and managed all Prime shoppers when it first rolled out the Prime pickup and delivery program in Whole Foods stores in 2018. The company now uses at least two different employment structures, which are internally referred to as "cardinal" or "bison" models, employees said. At "cardinal" stores, Amazon remains in charge of Prime shoppers. At "bison" stores, Whole Foods directly employs and manages Prime shoppers. Several Whole Foods employees said they prefer the idea of the bison model, either in theory or through direct experience, because it gives Whole Foods managers more control over the Prime shoppers and makes everyone feel as if they are part of the same team. An employee of a Chicago-area "cardinal" store where Amazon employs Prime shoppers said "there's a total disconnect" between the two groups of employees. A longtime Whole Foods human resources manager said it's hard to resolve issues with Prime shoppers when the store doesn't directly employ them. "They work in our store and with us all the time but are not our team members," she said. She cited problems with Prime shoppers failing to properly distance and wear masks, while "completely ignoring the one-way aisles." "We realize customers will ignore it but its egregious when the Amazon shoppers do it too," she said. At the same time, Whole Foods employees are instructed to treat Amazon Prime shoppers as customers, and can be disciplined for being rude towards them, she said. Whole Foods employees' morale is low, employees say Mounting tensions with the Prime Now program come at a time of declining morale among Whole Foods' employees, workers said. "Team member morale is the lowest I've ever seen it," the longtime human resources manager said. "Global keeps asking us for feedback and we keep saying to them: team members don't feel safe. They don't feel safe from the virus and they don't feel safe from the customers. I have never seen so many people look so stressed and so afraid." "Global" refers to Whole Foods' corporate office in Austin. She said surging Amazon Prime orders have added to the stress that Whole Foods workers are feeling. "We have fewer team members than ever before because labor budgets have been slashed over and over again, and then you have Amazon shoppers coming around asking for something," she said. The Northeast Whole Foods manager said when he joined the company, employee happiness was a strong focus. Now, he said, "everyone I know feels overworked and underpaid." If you are a Whole Foods employee with a story to share, contact this reporter at email@example.com.SEE ALSO: Whole Foods workers say a new company policy is a 'slap in the face' and a 'disgusting abuse' of people who worked during the height of the pandemic Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
A number of large retailers have said that all customers must wear masks, but some employees...A number of large retailers have said that all customers must wear masks, but some employees have been told they cannot force those who refuse.
Walmart won't enforce its own rules on mask-wearing because it fears staff could be attacked by shoppers angry at being challenged
People who refuse to wear a face mask will be served in Walmart — and many...People who refuse to wear a face mask will be served in Walmart — and many other stores — despite it having imposed new mask rules, according to a CNN report. On July 20, Walmart began requiring masks to be worn in all its stores, as coronavirus cases spike again in many parts of the US. However, to avoid a "physical confrontation," staff have been instructed to serve people who refuse to wear one anyway, Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia told Business Insider. Home Depot, Lowe's, CVS, and Walgreens will also serve people refusing to wear them, according to CNN. Mask acceptance is increasing, but there have been several incidents of violence in stores and towards staff members from customers who object to mask rules. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Shoppers who refuse to wear a face mask to visit Walmart will still be served, as the company seeks to protect its staff from "a physical confrontation," according to a CNN report. Walmart had announced that as of July 20, face masks would be compulsory for all but those whose medical conditions prevent it, as Business Insider's Hayley Peterson reported. At least 27 other retailers have recently required the same thing. However, a training video seen by CNN tells management to let people who refuse to wear a mask "continue to shop." Home Depot, Lowe's, CVS, and Walgreens have also said they'll serve customers without masks, CNN reported. Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia said in a statement to Business Insider: "We know there may be situations that may not make it possible for everyone to wear a face covering." In those situations, "we will allow them to shop in our stores and clubs," she said. "Our goal is to keep associates from a physical confrontation situation, and our ambassadors will be trained on those exceptions to help reduce friction for the shopper," she added. Not enforcing masks makes it a "public relations stunt," according to one critic Walmart first announced its mask rule with a blog post explaining how it trained special "health ambassadors" whose job it is to stand at the store entrance and "remind those without a mask of our new requirements." The company said that it that ambassadors would seek solutions when people refuse and recognize that some cannot wear masks on health grounds. But the health ambassadors are told in a training video not to impede customers who refuse physically. Instead, they inform a manager, "so they can determine the next steps," according to CNN. The company does not rule out involving law enforcement, however. A Walmart spokesperson told CNN: "While we do try to find solutions for customers who are not wearing face coverings, from time to time, we do need to call police for assistance in those areas." Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, criticized the lack of firmer enforcement. He told CNN that if companies "are not requiring customers to wear a mask within their store, then they never had a requirement. All they had was a public relations stunt." Walmart did not offer Business Insider a comment on the criticism, and did not respond to inquiries about asking security staff to enforce the rule Masks are increasingly accepted — but it's still tough for retail workers A Gallup poll released on July 6 showed that mask-wearing had become increasingly accepted in the US, with 85% of people saying they had worn one. Only 11% say they have not considered it. In their stores, Garcia, Walmart's spokeswoman, emphasized that "virtually everyone either brings a mask or readily complies with the requirement." However, retail staff have borne the brunt of numerous violent outbursts from some customers who refuse. Viral videos have shown anti-mask shoppers having outbursts over the issue. In early July, one woman was filmed destroying a mask display in an Arizona Target, while another customer in an Oregon Costco sat on the floor and refused to leave in an anti-mask protest. The issue has led to injuries — in late June, a 19-year-old McDonald's worker in California was physically attacked and racially abused by a customer who had been asked to put on a mask, as Business Insider's Kate Taylor reported. CBS Los Angeles reported that the employee confronted the man on July 15 at Ralphs's grocery store in Central Los Angeles and told the man he had to wear a face-covering or leave the establishment, a guideline required by Los Angeles County. The man rammed the employee with a shopping cart, and in response "she pepper-sprayed him and called the police," according to the report. In its blog post, Walmart said that around 65% of its 5,000 stores are in areas where there is already a statewide mask mandate. But the Retail Industry Leaders Association, of which Walmart is a member, wrote to governors on July 6 to ask for it to be imposed consistently across 50 states, CNN reported. Join the conversation about this story »