Why Some Retail Workers Are Fearing For Their Lives

Following a significant uptick in violent occurrences and mass shooting events, retail workers are fearing for their lives.

By Kristi Eckert | Published

retail workers

Customer-induced violence in retail stores has been increasing nationwide. Recent incidents range in severity from petty disputes to mass shooting events. These circumstances are causing many retail workers, rightfully so, to fear for their lives. 

Following the shooting that occurred at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, one retail workers union took steps to enhance on-the-job safety for all employees, reported The New York Times. Kim Cordoba, who is the president of Local 7 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Colorado, said that after the shooting at King Soopers she felt compelled to address the safety of workers. As a result, at a recent contract negotiation all workers apart of Cordova’s union were granted the right to defend themselves should a customer attack them. This is something that retail workers are typically discouraged to do. However, considering that the retail workspace is continuously becoming more perilous, Cordova felt it a pertinent step to take. 

Jason Straczewski, a vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation, echoed the sentiment illustrated by Cordova’s union. “Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” emphasized Straczewski. The disturbing and deeply concerning violent undercurrent that is currently gripping the nation as a riptide would capture a swimmer is further made apparent via data collected by the FBI. According to the bureau, violent occurrences in the retail setting have increased by 42% since 2018. That statistic is even higher for grocery stores and convenience stores. They are hovering between 62% and 75% respectively. Those figures certainly justify the fears that retail workers are feeling.

A major proponent of the uptick in violence occurrences was tensions that built during the height of the pandemic. The New York Times pointed to the fact that tensions built quickly during the pandemic as folks scrambled for resources and contentions rose because of mask mandates. Unfortunately, those lingering tensions still persist and retail workers are often on the receiving end. “People have changed. Sometimes I wonder if I am living in a Netflix movie. This can’t be real,” lamented Cordova to the Times. 

More unfortunate than the fact that extreme tension amongst customers persists is that retail workers are on the front line feeling the brunt of what that means. “A lot of people are angry and frustrated and take it out on workers. People are very touchy right now. There is something in the air. It is strange,” outlined Kyong Barry, a manager at a Safeway store in Washington state. Barry herself admitted that she is frightened that someone will come into her store and start shooting. 

In addition to violent incidents, retail theft is also on the rise. That is a compounding factor that is contributing to the fear that retail workers are feeling. During the height of the pandemic when many retail stores were operating on skeleton crews, thieves took advantage and began to coordinate instances of theft. Like the violent outbursts, this is also something that has continued to percolate. Ultimately, what this serves to show is that action needs to be taken to better safeguard retail workers nationwide to keep them out of harm’s way.