Michael Browne is executive editor of Supermarket News.
Each night at 7 p.m. here in New York, something wonderful happens on my block in Queens and on streets all over the city. After a busy day at my laptop working from home, I start to hear a random banging of pots outside my window that morphs into a full-on cacophony of joyful jangling, car horns, whistles and whoops from my neighbors that ends with a loudspeaker blaring Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and an enthusiastic singalong. Just part of life in the new COVID-19 reality.
The nightly celebration — and stress relief — began shortly after the city’s coronavirus lockdown began in mid-March, as a way for homebound residents to recognize and cheer our support for the first responders and essential workers who continue to serve us all during this crisis. And along with healthcare workers, police and EMTs, that includes the grocery workers who have been on the front lines since day one.
It’s no cliché to call these workers heroes. From the beginning of this crisis, supermarkets have been our one constant source of some relief, providing Americans with the essentials we need to get through the long days — now, weeks — with some semblance of normalcy. And the millions of frontline grocery workers who stock the shelves, sanitize the stores, ring up the customers, deliver groceries and so much more have been putting in brutal hours in a challenging environment dealing with a frightened — and sometimes frightening — public.
And a majority of Americans agree with that assessment, saying that, during the pandemic, their admiration has increased for essential workers more than it has for their own family and friends. A survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by Reputation Leaders and Over the Horizon Strategies finds that healthcare workers are currently admired the most (80%), but very closely followed by grocery store workers (77%), and delivery drivers (73%), reflecting a true appreciation for those working on the frontline during the pandemic.
“We cannot thank and appreciate our associates enough,” said Dacona Smith, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Walmart U.S., the nation’s largest retailer and employer of more than 1.4 million workers. “What they have accomplished in the last few weeks has been amazing to watch and fills everyone at our company with enormous pride. America is getting the chance to see what we’ve always known — that our people truly do make the difference. Let’s all take care of each other out there.”
This week, two Pennsylvania congressmen introduced new legislation to provide tax relief to grocery and other food workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill (H.R. 6841) would provide a federal tax holiday and a payroll tax exemption for all essential employees in the food and agriculture industry, as defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security.
H.R. 6841 marks an extension to the Giving Retailers and Our Convenience Employees Relief (GROCER) Act, which Thompson and Evans introduced on April 21. That bill (H.R. 6567) called for a federal tax relief period for grocery and convenience store employees amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“We need to help the workers who are keeping America fed during this crisis,” Evans said. “This bipartisan bill [H.R. 6841] would complement our proposed GROCER Act by helping even more of the people who are doing just that, and I believe it’s something that most of us should be able to agree on.”
We at Supermarket News applaud and appreciate the heroic work being done by America’s grocery workers. Stay safe and stay strong.
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