The new reality of reopening retail stores

STUART APPELBAUM President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union | 5/28/2020, midnight
As the Empire State takes its first tentative steps toward reopening the economy, nothing is more important than ensuring we ...
Stuart Appelbaum

As the Empire State takes its first tentative steps toward reopening the economy, nothing is more important than ensuring we do it the right way. Part of this process will be the reopening of retail stores, most of which have been shuttered since March. And the single most important condition of reopening retail is ensuring the safety of employees and customers.

Our union knows all too well that this is a matter of life or death. Across the country, the RWDSU has lost dozens of members to the coronavirus scourge, and countless RWDSU families know the anguish of losing loved ones to the COVID-19 disease. Tens of thousands of RWDSU members will be putting their lives on the line when the economy and retail stores further reopen, along with countless other working Americans. With thousands of RWDSU members employed at retail chains including Macy’s, Zara, Bloomingdales, and H&M, we couldn’t be more concerned. We only have one chance to get this right; getting it wrong—with potentially fatal consequences to our families and communities—cannot be an option.

It all starts with wearing masks, which is probably the most important thing we can do to protect people along with social distancing. All employees, management, and customers should be provided masks as they enter the store and they must be required to use them when they are in the store. Consistent mask usage helps prevent transmission of the virus, and it is a crucial component of any responsible reopening plan.

Employers need to commit to enforcing social distancing between employees, and employees and customers. Plexiglass partitions need to be constructed at all registers, and temperature testing needs to be provided to all employees at the employee entrance when they begin their shifts to prevent sick workers from entering the facility. Employees need to be given more breaks so they can wash their hands, and they need to be provided with sanitizer and gloves.

Employers also must make an unprecedented commitment to cleaning and disinfecting their stores, cleaning all break rooms and restrooms on a regular basis throughout the day. All employee areas need to be properly supplied with paper towels and hand sanitizer. The same type of protocol needs to be used for any equipment employees use, including registers. And, all interactions between customers and employees need to be adjusted to ensure safety. Gone are the days when employees would pass a customer a phone to talk to credit card employees.

Stores need to be deep cleaned and disinfected at the end of the day, and air circulation or air conditioning systems need to have proper filters sufficient to clean the air from contaminates. Filters must be cleaned every day.

We all want to see New York’s economy moving again, and we want RWDSU members to be able to return to their jobs safely. This means a real commitment from employers to doing this the right way. We’ve made some progress in New York in the fight against COVID-19; it’s proof that a scientific, health-driven approach can work during these uncertain times. If we are going to open our stores, we need to continue to embrace this approach, and keep workers and customers safe, protected, and secure.