The following is an account from Walmart workers in the New River Valley
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Wal-Mart’s response to the crisis has been unimpressive. Despite the adoption of a variety of masking and social distancing guidelines over the past two years, most of their efforts have been failures.
Resistance from the customers, sometimes escalating to confrontation with associates, combined with reluctance by management to properly implement and enforce these policies, has led to multiple department wide outbreaks from the start.
As new strains of Covid become capable of infecting even those with a full round of vaccinations, it continues to circulate rampantly in the New River Valley. Now, with the CDC caving to pressure from the capitalist class and the general apathy that has grown in regard to this public health crisis, we are seeing the potential for this to get worse once again.
In December and January, Covid once again made its rounds through our local store. As has become normal, management was slow to inform associates of their potential exposure.
Many of us learned of our exposure to others only when conscientious coworkers self-reported to each other. More still chose to come to work despite showing symptoms, obviously not honoring the mandatory self-assessments we take daily.
This outbreak was likely the new Omicron variant, as several vaccinated associates were afflicted. This led to the severe short staffing of multiple departments, but most concerningly among those in grocery. Both deli production and online grocery departments spiked in cases, which are the worst potential vectors of spread to the public.
Naturally, Wal-Mart claims it conducts a thorough cleaning and sanitization process in each department where associates have tested positive, however many of us are doubtful if they even follow through with that at all.
Unfortunately, even if they perfectly decontaminated all surfaces in the store, the primary vector for spread is proximity to the contagious. As I have mentioned, the implementation of mask mandates and social distancing has been a disaster overall, and so the company has once again changed its policy to accommodate these difficulties.
In plain terms, they have given up. Within a week of the last boom in cases at our store, the mask policy changed to allow vaccinated associates to forgo wearing masks completely.
Most of our associates, vaccinated or not, were more than happy to put an end to their inconvenience, even some of the most vocally concerned. Management has shown no interest in ensuring that the unvaccinated among us continue to comply, just as they have abandoned all attempts to make the customers do the same.
With the easing of policies and caution, there will likely be an increase in storewide outbreaks as time goes on. Having seen massive profits through the pandemic like most retailers, it is doubtful that corporate is concerned about how this will affect their bottom line.
They will push the workload on skeleton crews when the ranks run thin, as they always have. The real consequences will be on us associates. Wal-Mart in general employs many people with greater Covid risk, primarily its elderly workers.
Many of those afflicted recently in our store have had Covid multiple times, further increasing their risk of long-term symptoms and damage. Covid leave has also been shortened from two weeks to five days, in accordance with the new CDC guidelines, and very likely will be eliminated within the year as corporate works to further normalize this new disease.
With no preventative measures besides the faltering vaccines and fewer resources to accommodate the infected, our workplace will inevitably become a hotspot for infection, and workers and their families will bear the brunt of the suffering.