Omicron surge is leaving essential frontline workers frustrated and exhausted: report

Omicron surge is leaving essential frontline workers frustrated and exhausted: report

The internet and the digital revolution have made it possible for millions of people to work from home, which has become even more appealing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But workers who need to be physically present in brick-and-mortar businesses don’t have that option, and the highly infectious Omicron variant is only making their jobs more difficult. Business reporter Nathaniel Meyersohn, in an article published by CNN’s website on January 13, examines some of the difficulties essential frontline workers have been facing as Omicron continues to surge.

“The latest COVID-19 surge has caused many workers to get sick, while others are calling out because their child care plans are in flux as some schools are closing again,” Meyersohn explains. “And some employees are staying home because they are fearful about catching the virus on the job. Facing staffing strains, retailers such as Macy's (M) have shortened their operating hours.”

The reporter adds, “Retail and grocery store workers have faced challenges and safety hazards throughout the pandemic — they are paid low wages and often work for companies without strong paid sick leave policies or benefits. They have also dealt with angry and sometimes violent customers who refuse to wear masks, shoplifting and store shootings. These factors have contributed to the millions of unfilled jobs in the industry as well as a nationwide labor shortage.”

According to Mariah Molina, an employee of a Target store in Lynchburg, Virginia, Omicron has been making her job more and more demanding.

“We’re still getting a whole lot of orders every day,” Molina told CNN. “It's harder because we don't have as many people helping us.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been harsh for brick-and-mortar retailers in a variety of ways, from employees getting sick to supply-chain issues. When it is more difficult to get products from Point A to Point B, empty shelves become more common.

Sam Dancy, a 30-year employee of the QFC chain in Seattle who is now a supervisor, described himself as both frustrated and exhausted.

Dancy, who is African-American, told CNN, “Every day has been a struggle. I feel like I’m overexerting myself. I’m constantly tired.”

Meyersohn notes that a “disproportionate” number of frontline workers in the United States are female or non-White — or both.

“Around 29% of White workers are able to work from home, according to an Economic Policy Institute study in 2020,” Meyersohn observes. “But fewer than one in five Black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers can work from home. Frontline industries are staffed disproportionately by women and people of color, and they are overrepresented in many jobs within those industries, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research report in 2020.”

Meyersohn continues, “For example, women, who make up 47.4% of the nation’s overall workforce, account for 50.5% of the nearly seven million grocery workers. Black people represent 11.9% of the workforce, but account for 14.2% of grocery employees.”

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