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As Covid-19 Deaths Mount in Retail, Walmart Workers Take Matters Into Own Hands With Contact-Tracing Plan

"We can't wait for more half-measures—we're taking matters into our own hands to get the information we deserve to know."

People wearing masks and gloves wait to checkout at Walmart on April 03, 2020 in Uniondale, New York.

People wearing masks and gloves wait to checkout at Walmart on April 03, 2020 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

A national labor non-profit on Wednesday launched a virtual tracker for coronavirus cases in Walmart stores around the country, citing the retail giant's inaction in the face of the pandemic in the midst of rising infections and deaths of  employees.

"The rise of deaths and infections of Walmart associates show clearly that the company is not only failing to keep its associates and customers safe, but also failing to communicate clearly about store conditions," Michigan Walmart worker Ruby Ann Woolwine said in a statement. "We can't wait for more half-measures—we're taking matters into our own hands to get the information we deserve to know."

The Covid-19 tracker "will allow associates nationwide to report infections and store safety conditions" in a publicly available database, United for Respect said in a press release. 

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United for Respect listed the failures on the part of Walmart leadership to address the crisis:

  • Refusing to follow social distancing guidelines; offer protective equipment (and in some cases not allowing employees to bring their own), or provide hazard pay; 
  • Failing to disclose positive cases to customers, the community, and Walmart’s own employees in stores; and
  • Exacerbating this crisis by offering inadequate paid sick leave, as well as leaving hundreds of thousands without affordable healthcare. 

"Enough is enough," said Jessie Metcalfe, who works at a Walmart location in Colorado. "Walmart executives are so removed from the reality of what's happening in their stores that they don't understand: our customers can't be served if associates are out sick. What makes it more frustrating, and even scarier, is Walmart is keeping us in the dark about potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases."

With the new initiative, Metcalfe added, associates in any store "can use the tracker to keep each other and the public informed about the actual conditions in stores. We know—better than anyone—what's needed to safeguard the health of our families, our customers, and our communities, and that's why we'll keep raising our voices to demand PPE, hazard pay, and healthcare."

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