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Wed, April 21

Survey: Arizona grocery workers fret about unmasked shoppers

A survey of grocery store workers in Arizona by the University of Arizona reveals that about 20% of employees are anxious about customers not wearing masks in stores. Shoppers are shown leaving the Safeway grocery store at 3125 Stockton HIll Road in this October, 2020 photo. (Miner file photo)

A survey of grocery store workers in Arizona by the University of Arizona reveals that about 20% of employees are anxious about customers not wearing masks in stores. Shoppers are shown leaving the Safeway grocery store at 3125 Stockton HIll Road in this October, 2020 photo. (Miner file photo)

PHOENIX – Many grocery store workers in Arizona say they're still anxious about customers who won’t wear masks, with 1 in 5 employees affiliated with a major grocery union saying they're worried they could be physically assaulted by a shopper as the coronavirus pandemic grinds into its second year.

Preliminary results of a University of Arizona online survey showed that members of a union representing about half the state's grocery workers said they believed customers were becoming a bit better about wearing masks, but complaining more about it.

Nearly 4,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 union in July responded to the university's email invitations to participate. They were contacted again this month for updated responses.

In February, about 19% of the workers said they feared being physically assaulted by a customer, down slightly from 22% last July. About 45% of respondents this month said they feared being verbally attacked by a customer, down from 54% last summer.

“How long can workers continue in these conditions and how is that affecting health and well-being?” said Brian Mayer, an associate sociology professor at the University of Arizona. He's head researcher on the study that was carried out with the local union.

“So much has been asked of them,” Mayer said. “And unlike health care workers, these are essential workers who have no experience at all in dealing with communicable disease.”

A spokeswoman and several other representatives with the local union didn't respond to numerous emails seeking comment.

In July, researchers were gathering answers in the first round of the survey when an Arizona woman gained notoriety for recording a video of herself destroying a display of masks at a Scottsdale discount store.

Elsewhere in the U.S. West, police in Parker, Colorado, near Denver, said this month that they were seeking a woman who refused to wear a mask in a supermarket and slapped an employee.

In California's Orange County, Emily Theissen, a 24-year-old wine and spirits vendor, said delivering her goods to supermarkets can sometimes feel scary.

Theissen recalled a man who got angry when employees caught him trying to roll a cart full of laundry detergent and beer out of the store without paying. He had worn a mask but took it off to cough on the merchandise and the cart before leaving.

“It’s been really gross to see stuff like that, but it’s also nice to have the rest of the public come up and apologize to all the front-line workers,” Theissen said.

In the survey, grocery workers reported high levels of anxiety over financial problems and stress caused by the pandemic, with spouses or partners out of work and children needing care at home during remote learning. A third of respondents said they lacked reliable access to food, requiring them to make smaller meals, skip meals or seek help from food banks.

One out of five grocery workers also reported missing at least one rent or mortgage payment during the pandemic.

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