Minnesota and Vermont just classified grocery clerks are emergency workers. This should be nationwide.
via The Hill / Twitter

When we look back at the coronavirus pandemic a decade from now, the definitive images of the event may center around grocery stores.

The footage of people crowding around a palette jack filled with toilet paper or people waiting for three hours outside of a supermarket will forever be connected to the pandemic.

As Mr. Rogers famously said, when tragedy strikes, "look for the helpers." Medical professionals, first-responders, and state employees are always there for us in a crisis, but this time, grocery store employees are among the helpers who have come forward.

At a time when everyone should be social distancing, they're working check-out counters where hundreds of people pass by them every day, handing them money that may or may not be contaminated. Other employees are managing the panicked customers or attempting to stay calm when asked about the next shipment of toilet paper.

Minnesota and Vermont are showing their support for these workers on the front lines by declaring them emergency workers. The designation means that in both states the employees are eligible for free child care.

Access to child care, let alone free child care, is a godsend at a time when schools are closed.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz made the designation as part of the "Care for Children of Families of Emergency Workers" order which instructs schools to provide daycare for school-age children of emergency workers who are "critical to the response of COVID-19."

Grocery clerks are labeled as essential "tier 2 workers" according to the order.

In Vermont, children of grocery store workers will now be able to attend child care at private centers which will be reimbursed by the state, under an order by public safety commissioner Michael Schirling.

Grocery store clerks nationwide should be considered emergency workers during this time and they should be eligible for hazard pay.

Hazard pay is defined by the Department of Labor as, "additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship," with "physical hardship" including "extreme physical discomfort and distress … not adequately alleviated by protective devices."

Grocery store employees are sitting ducks, waiting to catch the virus. They should be compensated.

The hourly mean wage for cashiers at food and beverage stores is just $11.43. No one should have to risk their lives for any amount of money, but many workers are forced into dangerous situations because they don't want to, and can't afford to, lose their jobs.

"It's an awful decision: Go to work and put your life at risk, or lose your job, lose your income, and lose your insurance," a 67-year-old grocery store worker told Vox.

In times of crisis, you can judge a country the way it treats its most vulnerable. Being underpaid and forced to work in a dangerous condition is as vulnerable as one can get. As a country, let's be on the right side of history and care for these workers and their children.