March 18, 2020; Mother Jones
Who would make your list of “emergency workers” in these days of the coronavirus health crisis? If you listed healthcare workers, police, firefighters, and other first-responders, you would certainly be on track. But if you live in Vermont or Minnesota, you will need to add your grocery store clerks and stockers to that list. This means the workers who refill the shelves and check out what you purchase in supermarkets in these two states now qualify for free childcare alongside others who cannot perform their very necessary jobs from home.
In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz made this part of his order for “Care for Children of Families of Emergency Workers.” It directs closed schools to continue to provide care for children of workers who are “critical to the response of COVID-19.” Grocery workers are classified as “essential tier 2 workers.” It should be noted that those childcare workers are also classified as emergency personnel.
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Vermont is working on a plan to reimburse private childcare centers for caring for the children of essential workers. They plan to include grocery workers to their list of those who are essential. Other states and municipalities are beginning to pay attention—as well they should. As this crisis has the potential to extend from weeks into months, the strain to keep store shelves stocked and checkout counters staffed will only increase. The grocery store is one of the few essential places where people who are “sheltering in place” can venture out. Communities and their leadership should care about the people who work there.
Grocery store checkers and stockers often receive low wages and go unappreciated for the service they provide. It might be time to reassess how much we value what they do. Providing them with free childcare is a good thing. But it is just a first step.—Carole Levine