Don’t betray NY workers who braved pandemic

POLITICS: Don’t betray NY workers who braved pandemic

The state faced a crisis four years ago as the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc.

While many could work from home, a group of New Yorkers had to confront the perilous unknown to keep New York alive: mom-and-pop workers in supermarkets, bodegas and other essential places.

These essential workers were hailed every night for months as New York teetered on the edge.

These same workers are in dire need of our assistance, this time due to persistent retail theft.

It is imperative that Albany — and a very reluctant Speaker Carl Heastie — take immediate action to protect them.

Mom-and-pop workers in 2020 went into their places of business — and many never returned.

While exact numbers are hard to reach, one study showed labor, retail and service workers suffered 68% of the COVID deaths in the pandemic’s first year. In New York, it’s safe to say that scores of these workers died doing their jobs.

And while we honored them in words, it’s time to back that up in deeds.

New York mom-and-pop workers do not feel safe in their stores because too many have been robbed and too many have been attacked.

In New York City, shoplifting is vastly underreported.

According to a National Supermarket Association survey of our members, 93% are victims of shoplifting. And 60% say they are shoplifted every single day. Think about that for a second. New York City supermarkets — every single day — are the targets of shoplifting.

These are primarily family-owned supermarkets with already tight margins. Local stores reported $300 million in revenue lost due to retail theft.

Merchants made around 63,000 complaints, but most went unresolved.

Those margins are even tighter because our survey found 70% have been forced to spend their money on security. It shouldn’t be this way.

Store workers should not have to worry about their safety. Even when security guards are hired, workers often find themselves in harm’s way. We’ve all seen these videos on the news: workers being attacked or forced to break up fights.

It’s an entirely unsustainable situation, and it is time Albany steps up. We’ve had a reliable ally in Gov. Hochul, who has made retail theft a cornerstone issue this year.

She understands that for our communities to thrive and small businesses to grow, they must be safe and workers should feel protected.

Real actions to take

Her advocacy for more funds to guard against retail theft is very welcome.

These funds would do important things like deploy State Police to build cases against retail-theft rings, fund district attorneys to prosecute property crimes, set up a State Police smash-and-grab unit and ensure funds for local law enforcement to fight retail theft.

This is why we formed the Collective Action to Protect Our Stores coalition.

Composed of 10,000 diverse stores, we have supported a slate of legislation and policies that will help us, including legislation by state Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton and Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos that makes assaulting a retail employee or owner a class-D felony.

We also back legislation that creates the offense of fostering the sale of stolen goods and legislation raising a subsequent offense to grand larceny in the fourth degree.

Now we need Speaker Heastie to hear us. We are black, brown and immigrant businesses, many of which are in The Bronx and his district.

We just want to operate and work in peace. We want to go home to our families after long days. What they don’t want to be is another statistic — someone beaten up or murdered in their store.

This is a vital moment for New York. We need to decide who we want to prioritize and who we want to protect.

It should not be the people who routinely come into our stores and beat up cashiers, chase our workers or terrorize our customers.

Everyone loved our essential workers in 2020; we need the government to stand up for them now.

If Albany wants to do one thing for working-class immigrant workers this year, it would pass solid protections for them.

We asked so much of these workers during the worst of the pandemic — we owe it to them to stand up for them now.

We don’t have a moment to lose.

Nelson Eusebio is with the National Supermarket Association

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