This Is What It's Like to Be a Walmart Cashier During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of American workers — especially those in "essential jobs" who continue to go to work in the midst of the outbreak — including nurses, pharmacy technicians, flight attendants, grocery store employees, and caregivers. InStyle spoke to women in these fields about what their day-to-day life looks like right now, their concerns for themselves and their families, as well as how those of us staying home can help. 

Read more of these stories here. 

Mendy Hughes, a cashier at Walmart in Arkansas 

Hughes, 45, works in Arkansas, where most non-essential businesses, as well as schools, have been closed or are offering limited services. She is a mother of four and has worked at Walmart for 10 years. She is also a United for Respect Union member.

I usually drive to work. I go in early a lot of times around 5:45 a.m. — we don't open until 6 a.m. I would say a little over a week ago, people started coming in early, waiting outside for Walmart to even open. They get mad because there's nobody else but me to check them out at that time. And there's no registers other than self-checkout open until at least 7a.m. So, I see them when they're the most upset. We’re busy like this pretty much until we close at 11 p.m. It's like Black Friday every day.

Toilet paper was the first thing to go. The other day we got some in and within three minutes it was gone. Now, we're out of water, toilet paper, and hand sanitizers. They're buying up all the canned food. I mean everything. They’re not saving for other people because we don't have a limit at our store. But, I mean, save some for others. And just know it's not our fault that we are out of stuff. It's not our fault that our shelves are empty. We don’t know what is going to be on the trucks when they come. And stuff is gone as soon as we put it out anyway.

I've seen a lot of customers wearing masks and gloves in the store. [But my store] hasn’t given us masks or gloves to wear. I don't even know if we're allowed to. I don't know if it'll make the customers fear us, if they would think we have [the coronavirus] or what. I mean, they say not to be around a lot of people [and yet] there's hundreds and hundreds of people coming into Walmart every day. We're exposed to everybody that comes in. You don't know who has it. You don't know who doesn’t. They could be carrying it and they don't have any symptoms at all. You just don't know.

I think my coworkers are worried. They don't know what they would do if they had to be off work. Most of them don't have paid time off because all cashiers are part-time. We have to work 60 hours to get one hour of PTO. And we won't get the two-week off with pay [promised to employees by the company] unless we have a confirmed case. [The company has offered up to two weeks' pay to part-timers like Mendy only if their store is shut down, or if the employee has a confirmed case of the coronavirus. On Mar. 20, the company said it would offer $150 in cash bonuses to each part-time hourly employee on April 2.] 

Also, a lot of people have compromised immune systems where I work. Our greeter said her husband wants her to quit because she has heart problems and lung problems. Another cashier has a compromised immune system because she had to have a kidney transplant. She's stressed out already. And then a customer went off on her yesterday because we didn't have something she wanted. [The cashier] had to get a manager to check the woman out.

It's overall really stressful right now. I mean, I'm diabetic, so I know it's harder for me to get over stuff or to heal when I do get sick. But I don't have the choice to stay home right now. I have to go to work to pay my bills. I'm a single parent. I have to have a paycheck. I have no other income. Unless I get really, really sick; then, I guess, I'll have no choice but to stay home.

My kids who still live at home with me are 10, 17, and 22. And then my oldest one is married and his wife's a nurse, which totally scares me. But my 22-year old son is home right now because he’s sick. He got sent home from the restaurant where he works yesterday. I told him to call the [coronavirus] hotline last night because he has symptoms. But they told him that unless you’ve been around someone with a confirmed case, they don't test you here. Which I think is crazy because there's probably a lot of people that have it that they're not testing.

For now, when I get home after work, I change clothes and wash up. Then I lay down for a little bit and just try to relax. I have to, I'm so tired and so stressed out. I have to relax a little bit before I do anything else and before I head back in tomorrow.

For more information on United for Respect, visit united4respect.org.  

Follow our series on essential women in the fight against COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.

 

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