Two Walmart workers from same Illinois store die from coronavirus | Business


A pair of workers at a Walmart in the Chicago suburbs have died from the coronavirus, casting a grim spotlight on the risks faced by retail workers and causing concerns over whether large stores were taking enough care of their staff.

The two workers were assigned to a store in Evergreen Park, Illinois, according to the company.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of two associates at our Evergreen Park store, and we are mourning along with their families,” Walmart confirmed in a statement.

Walmart did not identify the workers or provide details on when or how they died.

According to store officials, the associates had not been in the Evergreen Park location “for more than a week”. It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear in infected individuals.

The coronavirus, which has infected nearly 350,000 worldwide and killed more than 9,600 people in the US so far, continues to wreak havoc on workers in industries deemed essential, including supermarkets and factories.

As the virus first made headway in the US, several workers at other Walmart locations told the Guardian they were concerned about working in crowded environments and whether the firm was putting concern for profits over safety.

“I’m 64 years old and according to the CDC, I should be staying home and practicing social distancing and in quarantine,” said a customer service manager, also in the midwest. “I can’t do that as I can’t afford to take off work unpaid.”

The worker opted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

Other workers shared reports of increased workloads, short staffing and a lack of sanitation protections or hazard compensation.

A Walmart spokesperson at the time referred to corporate press releases and an updated sick leave policy. Under it, workers are permitted to take unpaid time off if they don’t feel well.

Those diagnosed with coronavirus or quarantined can receive two weeks of paid sick leave.

The company announced 20 March it would hire 150,000 workers nationwide to meet demand. Full-time employees will receive about $300 each in bonuses.

Dan Bartlett, Walmart-vice president of corporate affairs, told reporters the company waited to secure protective gear to avoid further limiting equipment that could go to strained healthcare workers across the country.

He added the US’s largest grocer and private employer will need more than 7m masks each week for its employees. The first shipment will arrive in two weeks.

Last Friday, Walmart announced community protection measures including a reduced number of permitted customers in store, employee temperature checks and limited store hours to allow for cleaning and restocking.

Bartlett noted the company’s new measures were based on employee feedback, insisting leaders “try very hard to keep [their] finger on the pulse of [the] workforce”.

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