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Stores Ask Customers to Pledge to Be Nice to Workers

Instead of paying workers better, they are asking customers to pledge to not attack workers in stores

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 09, 2021

A dozen retailers, including big names like GAP and H&M, are collaborating on a campaign to enlist customers to combat the growing epidemic of bad behavior towards retail workers.

The effort, which is being spearheaded by the nonprofits Open to All and Hollaback, as well as the trade group the Retail Industry Leaders Association, comes as workers are facing increased harassment from shoppers over mask enforcement and social distancing policies. According to the AP some of the people who are being targeted the most are retail workers with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQ.

According to the Director of Open to All, the campaign is asking customers to help de-escalate situations and show support for workers. Participating retailers will have signage in their stores with QR codes that allow customers to electronically sign a pledge of support for the workers. There will also be a toolkit to instruct customers on what they can do to help, including how to create a distraction for the abusive individual, documenting the situation and bringing in someone else to help.

Retailers say that they fear the busy back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons will lead to more abuse for workers. Especially as states relax mask and social distancing rules, businesses expect Karen's to continue to fight and argue with workers about the new rules, although there may be a shift from people complaining about having to wear masks to people complaining that not enough people are wearing masks.

While these businesses are spending money on signage upgrades to try and convince customers not to abuse their staff, most retailers are not listening to their staff about what their concerns are in the workplace. Many companies have ended their hazard pay and they are only beginning to increase pay because workers are refusing to work at stores where they will be subjected to abuse from the public. Many are also getting rid of their mask mandates without taking into account the safety of their employees.

Following the CDC’s new guidance that masks were not needed for vaccinated people, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents workers at grocery stores and through their sister union RWDSU which represents retail workers, said:

“While we all share the desire to return to a mask-free normal, today’s CDC guidance is confusing and fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks. Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police? With so many states already ending their mask mandates, this new CDC guidance must do more to acknowledge the real and daily challenge these workers and the American people still face.

Vaccinations are helping us take control of this pandemic, but we must not let our guard down. As one of America’s largest unions for essential workers, UFCW is calling on the CDC and our nation’s leaders to clarify how this new policy will be implemented, how essential workers will be protected, and how these workers will protect the communities they serve.”


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