Essential workers deserve more from their employers


By Ryan Scanlin

The world is on fire, the government has ordered us all to chill at home but we’re out of bread so I guess we have to go to the store.

I have been a grocery stocker at HEB for almost eight years now. Oh, all the holiday seasons of customers climbing over me to grab a product, or letting me know that I should be sorry about selling out of cream cheese. It’s not a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination, nor one where you get appreciated very often, but HEB offers decent benefits and typically showers us with enough well-being that it makes up for most of the frustrations. Covid-19 has poked a lot of holes in that blanket of corporate niceness for me personally, and it all makes me more motivated to get out of the grocery business. 

About a month ago when Coronavirus cases were first being confirmed in Hays county, I was paged to the conference room during my shift. It turned out that one of my fellow employees had tested positive for Covid-19. One of the store leaders told us this and that we had to keep this to ourselves until the company made a statement about it. People were worried for their well-being though, so rightfully so, the word eventually got out.

Maybe around a week after all of this and a few similar cases at other stores I logged into partnernet (the HEB web application on all our work computers) and found a new psa video titled “Social Media Guidelines”. The video was an old, recycled psa that seemed to have been updated for Covid-19 and was conspicuously timed with all the current goings on. It wasn’t aggressive, it had cute, friendly music, but the idea of it was clear: they didn’t want employees saying anything negative online about HEB.

The video was shuffled away from the main page shortly thereafter, and potentially deleted altogether (I found it a couple of weeks ago by digging around through the archived stuff but couldn’t find it again). So maybe they decided to step back from the “big brother is watching you” kind of approach. This isn’t my big frustration right now with my work, but it shows that the company doesn’t really and truly care about the individual, just the company. 

A few people in my department have taken a leave of absence until the cases slow down, understandably so, but this has led to a lot of unrealistic expectations from upper management. Our crew is trying to do the work of fewer people than we have. Even more work than usual to be honest, the virus has been making our departments sales rise. 

It really seemed for a little while that the top-level management was empathizing with us. They gave us a temporary pay raise, they told us for a couple of weeks not to worry about cutting overtime if it happened and they gave 36 sick-leave hours to part-time workers who didn’t get that before, although that isn’t anywhere near the 80 hrs that employees of smaller businesses get through the FFCRA Act.

HEB is a privately-owned company, so it’s hard to track how exactly they have been doing as a whole through this pandemic. But Walmart has certainly been getting a big bump, so I am sure that HEB is doing pretty well through all of this. Definitely well enough to hire some more hands on deck and offer part-time employees more than 36 hours of sick leave.

This all may seem moot now, given that Greg Abbott has begun to re-open non-essential businesses around the state, but the predictions are suggesting that we are nowhere near out of this pandemic and more cases will appear in grocery stores. It makes me wonder if the two-dollar per hour temporary raise is worth it.

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