With cases of COVID-19 spreading quickly, people are urged to stay in their homes and venture outside only when absolutely necessary, such as going to the supermarket. Even then, they are advised to stay at least six feet away from one another. But until recently certain retail workers were expected to work.
Eugenio Arce is a 21-year-old part-time employee at a GameStop store in Miami, and while other retailers were closing, GameStop remained open. The company said it was keeping the stores open because they considered them “essential,” since they sold products such as cable and wifi connections and keyboards that customers needed to work remotely. Arce said his store had the option for employees to wear gloves, but had just one bottle of hand sanitizer that employees had to use sparingly.
“Cleaning was extensive since we were required to deep clean every single thing the customers touched while they shopped,” he said, adding that the company didn’t do much when it came to an employees’ safety — but took measures for customers.
“After a couple of days of other stores closing, they set a 10 person maximum, six feet apart rule,” he said. The 10 people included the two employees usually on hand, so if more than eight customers were inside, the employees had to make sure to escort someone out.
GameStop officially closed all its storefronts this past weekend after an outcry from employees and others who accused the company of trying to profit from the pandemic. Although the stores are closed to customers, the company is still processing digital orders and providing curbside pickup.
Another retail worker said her company reacted too late. 23-year-old Antonella Castillo is the manager of Blush Boutique, a women’s clothing store in Miami. She said the company failed to provide the stores with cleaning supplies.
“The first email they sent was March 12 informing us that they could not find any cleaning supplies, and that if we found any, we could reimburse ourselves,” said Castillo. “The second email said our hours were reduced from 12 to five hours, and finally the last email was to say we would be closed until April 1.”
Castillo said that while she’s grateful that as a full-time employee she is getting paid while the place is shut down, the sales team won’t be getting regular commissions or monthly incentives. She also said it’s unfair part-time employees won’t get any compensation.
“I feel awful for my part-time girls, they work so hard and now they have no type of income for who knows how long,” Castillo said. “I have a feeling that after the two weeks, if we continue in quarantine, full-timers won’t even be receiving their checks, so I’m in a constant state of stress.”
While she agrees that vital stores should remain open, she said she doesn’t believe nonessential stores should open any time soon.
“I strongly believe nonessential stores should remain closed until the pandemic has eased down — no one needs clothes right now. Please stay at home.”
27-year-old Nickson Joseph is a full-time employee of the Versace designer clothing store in Sunrise, and has been with the company for two years. He says the company has been keeping them informed of the spread of the virus and how they are combating it as a company.
“Relief funds have been created along with the owner, Donatella Versace herself, donating thousands of dollars towards funds as well,” said Joseph.
Although the store had less traffic than usual in the weeks before closing, Joseph said it still had rushes of customers.
“Luckily for us, we are being compensated for our time off,” he said.”We are receiving our salary or hourly wages for a full work week every week until we are open again.” But employees who work on commission or are not on staff aren’t receiving any compensation, and it’s not a job that can be done remotely.
A little over a third of all jobs in the state of Florida are in leisure, hospitality and retail. A prolonged shutdown of these businesses could mean a loss statewide of more than 350,000 jobs by this summer, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C.
(Editor’s note: This story is part of a series describing the transformational effect of coronavirus on the young. For more stories, click here.)