Essential workers step up during pandemic

Walmart employee, Christian Villegas, pulling in carts to be sanitized.
Photo By Martin Flores

By Christian Villegas 
Pulse Staff Reporter

I quit working fast food after I never got a raise, and I’ve been working for Walmart for going on a year. I am a cart pusher, and my job is to collect all shopping carts from the cart corral. Before the virus hit, my hours were 20 to 25 in a week. In February, my life was pretty normal. This was when I was introduced to COVID-19, the coronavirus, and soon things began to change. I am now known as an essential worker. 

It was normal day at Walmart. When I clocked in from the back, they were getting prepared for tax season. I saw a bunch of flat screen TVs, clothes, toys and more stuff. We knew that we were going to get more hours because since the beginning of 2020, they cut our hours because hardly anyone shops, except for essential stuff. I only work on the weekends, but sometimes they schedule me to work Thursday or Wednesday. 

Everything was fine. Life was normal. Then the unthinkable happened. Little did we know our normal life was going to change in the coming weeks. Weeks of ignoring the warning signs will pay their price. 

On March 11, the same day that WHO declared coronavirus a global pandemic, I was at Chuck E. Cheese with my little brother. I was also trying to watch Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid, but their free Wi-Fi was not that good. Then I saw some rumor about toilet paper running out. My cousin sent a message. He showed me a photo that Alamo Colleges was adding another week of Spring Break due to rising concerns about the coronavirus. I was not surprised. A few days back, Southwest ISD had also postponed classes, but there was more to come.

Friday, I started to work. When I clocked in, some of the stuff was empty in the back. The toilet paper section was empty. Water bottles were empty. Luckily, the truck just came and unloaded stuff. When I pushed carts, I noticed two things during the whole day. One, customers are leaving with a bunch toilet paper from the panic, and lastly, other customers are buying large screen TVs from their tax return money. Keep in mind, this is before stimulus checks were mailed out.  Either way, it was busy.

San Antonio had started see more cases of coronavirus. One time my friend pretended to fake cough, and he told me that he has coronavirus. One of the customers turned around, stared at him with shock on his face and left. I did not believe him because he always jokes around.  When the store first started to close at 10 p.m.,the customers decided to complain and left because there was nothing they can buy. When I left to clock out, the grocery shelf started to get empty. The water bottles shelf was empty, the toilet paper was empty, the bread was empty, and the meat section was empty.

At the end of the day, the store manager decided to have a meeting to cover rising concerns about the coronavirus. He also mentioned new rules that could be implemented very soon. He said if one of the associates was infected with coronavirus, the store would shut down and put us in quarantine for 14 days with pay. If they feel uncomfortable at the workplace, they can also take 14 days but without pay. The only way they can get pay without working is if city, state or federal officials force you to be in quarantine. A few days later, a Facebook post said three associates at my store were infected with coronavirus.

The person who posted it is an associate at my store. She claimed that the manager and personnel are “hiding” and looked “very worried”. Her post spread like a wildfire but later she removed the post. But there is a saying that once something is posted on the Internet, it stays on the Internet. How? A screenshot. The post made the situation even worse. It was at that point that it reached my parents’ and my relatives’ Facebook feeds. Thanks to the Facebook post, one of the department managers claimed that 34 people called in and took 14 days off. Later, the boss addressed the situation and said that it was false. With so many people calling in, my manager is constantly calling me in to work.

Since the virus hit, my weekly hours are around 25 to 35. I didn’t see if the girl who posted on Facebook was still working there, but I never knew her mainly because there’s so many departments in Walmart. No one knows why she did it. Maybe she thinks that the store manager is lying and wants to make more money? I don’t know. The good thing is that, so far, no one from our store has been sick during this pandemic. 

At the beginning of the crisis, we didn’t have any protection, except gloves. We had hand sanitizer and wipes. They told us to sanitize the baskets before we push them into the garage. When H-E-B installed plexiglass at their checkouts, Walmart also installed plexiglass a week later. 

In April, they used the auto center as an employees’ entrance to check our temperatures and ask some questions. That is when they give out gloves and masks. They added new rules for us, like always wear a mask inside and keep six feet away for social distancing. The customers have mixed reactions, too. Some can be rude, while others thank us for our service. 

It has been stressful. I had to deal with customers and keeping up with college. People are dying from the virus. Nothing is going to change until someone finds a vaccine, and a vaccine might be years away. The normal life we once had is gone. Everything is damaged. If we stay together, we’ll fight this and rebuild everything. There is hope; we just have to be patient.

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