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Food Workers Are Experiencing Hostility and Violence From Customers Refusing to Wear Masks

A Waffle House employee was shot in Colorado after refusing service to a maskless diner

Grocery employee wearing a mask at the register.
Grocery and restaurant workers trying to enforce mask-wearing rules are facing threats and violence.
Photo: pixfly/Shutterstock

Grocery and restaurant workers face threats and violence as they try to enforce face mask policies

Grocery and restaurant workers are increasingly bearing the brunt of politicized — and, occasionally, violent — opposition to policies requesting that people wear face masks in public, Business Insider reports.

Research shows that widespread mask usage can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, not by protecting any one individual from getting the virus, but by preventing people who have the virus from spreading it to others. “The mask is protecting other people from you,” one expert told Eater. But masks have also become the center of a cultural and political clash between those who see mask wearing as a responsible measure for the greater good, and those who see it as an infringement of individual freedom — a tension exacerbated by some politicians’ attempts to associate reopening efforts with ideas of liberation and patriotism.

As a result, essential workers on the front lines of risk are being met with threats and worse when they try to enforce mask-wearing policies and other safety measures among customers. Last week, a man shot and wounded a Waffle House cook in Aurora, Colorado, after the employee told the alleged perpetrator on three separate occasions that he had to wear a mask to be served. The week before that, a woman in Oklahoma City opened fire on McDonald’s employees after being told the restaurant’s dining room was closed. A shopper wore a Ku Klux Klan hood at a grocery store after San Diego County required masks in public, and the mayor of Stillwater, Oklahoma, ended the city’s mask rule after less than 24 hours because businesses’ employees had faced a barrage of verbal abuse and threats of violence. A Family Dollar security guard was shot and killed in Flint, Michigan, after telling a customer that her child had to wear a mask to enter the store, per a statewide order.

Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International labor union, said that many retailers are failing to protect their essential workers by not taking stricter measures or hiring additional security forces that can help enforce mask policies, Business Insider reports.

Instead, workers like Kristine Holtham, a Kroger employee from Lansing, Michigan, are left to attempt to get customers to comply. “The employees are downright afraid to ask people to put on masks,” she said on a UFCW International call. “Believe me, if you ask someone to put on a mask, it’s like asking them to throw their gun away.”

And in other news…

  • Grocery workers say they are still at risk and working in fear amid the pandemic, even as major supermarket chains end hazard pay. [Detroit Free Press]
  • More than 10 percent of U.S. households said they couldn’t get the food they wanted or needed, according to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. [AP]
  • “I was supposed to eat at a restaurant. I bailed.” [NYT]
  • This iridescent chocolate diffracts light like the wings of a butterfly due to the way its surface is molded. [NYT]

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