“I’m up front and center with a lot of customers,” said Pam Hill, a cashier at Albertsons in Los Angeles and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. “It’s nervous times for us.”
“We were being misinformed to think it doesn’t affect us,” she said. “And it does — greatly.”
Retail and grocery stores are some of the few public spaces still open, and they are disproportionately staffed by black workers.
In the grocery, drug and convenience store industries, 14.2% of workers are black. In the trucking, warehouse and postal service industry, 18.2% of workers black.
“Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately in low-wage jobs. And amongst those are retail,” said Steven Pitts, associate chair of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley. “To the extent that that you want workers to shelter in place, the capacity to shelter in place is racially shaped.”
Disproportionate toll on black Americans
And in New York City, black people represented 28% of the deaths, higher than their 22% representation in the city’s population.
Several black grocery store workers have died from the coronavirus, including Phillip Thomas, 48, who was an employee at Walmart in Evergreen Park, Illinois, for nine years.
“He left work because he got sick. He was a diabetic,” said his sister Angela McMiller.
People with underlying health conditions are more affected by the coronavirus. In the United States, black people are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. Blacks have lower levels of health insurance coverage and are less likely to have insurance coverage through an employer compared with whites.
“We’re seeing the legacies of the immediate past and the historical past,” said Pitts. “You don’t have a racist virus. But you’re landing into arenas of American life that are heavily racialized. And that’s why you see the disparate impacts.”
Although retailers, including Albertsons, Walmart and Target, have increased pay during the pandemic, expanded their benefits and increased safety measures, some of their black workers say it’s not worth the risk.
“I have underlying conditions,” she said. “It’s too dangerous.”
—CNN’s Eric Levenson contributed to this article.