The New Front Lines: What We Must Do to Protect Essential Retail Workers

The New Front Lines: What We Must Do to Protect Essential Retail Workers
By state Rep. Pat Harkins, 1st District/Erie County

Unusual times make for unlikely heroes, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

With the pandemic invading nearly every aspect of our lives, the phrase “working on the front lines” has taken on a whole new meaning. Standing at a cash register is working on the front lines. So is stocking shelves, pumping gas and serving pharmacy customers.

Much like our emergency rescue workers, these essential employees face danger – in this case an invisible one – every single day. Constantly on the front lines, they show up for work day in and day out – often for extended hours – to make sure we have what we need to carry on some semblance of normalcy in these difficult times.

To be sure, they deserve our thanks and our appreciation. But they deserve more. They deserve protection.

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We don’t send emergency rescue workers into the fire without protective equipment. Likewise, we must not allow front-line retail workers – cashiers, pharmacy workers, gas station attendants and others who work in essential businesses – to battle this invisible enemy unprotected.

That’s why I’m introducing legislation that would ensure these employees have safe working conditions that support them and their families, while also reducing the threat of spreading infectious disease into the community.

The COVID-19 Retail and Grocery Store Worker Safety Act would enact into state law the best practices for doing that. Those practices include social distancing of employees and customers, the use of barriers to decrease contact, store cleaning practices, employee access to hygiene stations and hand sanitizer, paid leave for sick employees and protocols for treating employees who are exposed to COVID-19 within the workplace.

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Keeping us connected with essential goods and services is keeping us all alive. And the workers responsible for these essential duties should not be left to fend for themselves.

These heroes deserve no less than their own health and safety.

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