Friday, March 27, 2020

Are You Shopping at Costco During This Pandemic? Buyer Beware

“Workers at Costco warehouses across the US have been testing positive for COVID-19, according to bulletins seen by BuzzFeed News, and their colleagues say the retail giant is not being transparent about how they are informing staff or taking the proper precautions to prevent further spread.

“Costco, which is the second-largest retailer in the world behind Walmart, has become a vital resource for millions of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Lines continue to stretch around buildings and parking lots as record numbers of people purchase goods at one of the company’s nearly 550 warehouses.

“Its 163,000 full- and part-time US employees, like scores of other grocery store and food retail workers, have now been deemed essential, but some say their employer has not been giving them the proper training, protection, or compensation to work in what is now a high-risk environment, especially now that their colleagues are testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“Over the past few weeks, dozens of Costco workers have told BuzzFeed News they’ve been handling products and interacting with hundreds of customers per day without proper social distancing or gear. In at least five locations, employees told BuzzFeed News that management had informed staff that a coworker had tested positive by posting letters in places inaccessible to customers, often in the break room.

“At a fifth store, in Colorado, an employee said they did not have a notice posted, but found out about two positive coronavirus cases through word of mouth. These employees say their stores did not close for deep cleaning, nor were shoppers notified, and feel that managers tried to ‘hide’ or downplay the situation...

“Costco did not return BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. However, the company has maintained in internal messages that it is following federal safety guidelines, prioritizing the health and safety of its staff and members, and is allowing workers to take unpaid sick leave if they are showing symptoms, are high-risk, or are concerned about endangering their families. However, many employees live paycheck to paycheck or are part-time workers who can’t afford to miss days and not get paid. As a result, employees say they and their coworkers have been coming into work, even if they are not feeling well.

“On Monday, CEO Craig Jelinek said in an internal email that ‘all full-time, part-time, and limited part-time hourly Costco employees in the US and Puerto Rico will receive an additional $2 per hour for hours worked during the five weeks of March 2 through April 5, 2020.’

“…Costco employees across the US have told BuzzFeed News that social distancing is not being upheld in their stores, which they say are logging record numbers of shoppers every day.

“Steffanie Strathdee, an infectious disease epidemiologist and global health expert at the University of California, San Diego, said there need to be stronger guidelines on a broader scale for companies that are now considered essential services. Otherwise, places we very much rely on, like grocery stores, can end up becoming ‘an incubator.’

“‘Paid sick leave is incredibly important. If a worker is pressured to come back to work after they have been exposed or showing symptoms, that’s wrong,’ she said. ‘People need to be notified when they are working with an infected person because of all the people they are putting in harm’s way. We are about to become the world’s epicenter [for COVID-19] and we need to take it seriously. The longer we allow policies to be lax, the more contagious it becomes.’” 

For the complete article from BuzzFeed News, click here.

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