Do not let down NY workers who risked their lives during the pandemic

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Four years ago, the state was in crisis due to the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic.

While many were able to work from home, a group of New Yorkers had to face the unknown dangers to keep New York running: the mom-and-pop workers in supermarkets, bodegas, and other essential places.

These essential workers were hailed every night for months as New York hung in the balance.

Now, these same workers are in urgent need of our help due to ongoing retail theft issues.

It is crucial that Albany — and a hesitant Speaker Carl Heastie — take immediate action to protect them.

In 2020, mom-and-pop workers went to work, many never returning home.

While exact numbers are difficult to determine, one study showed that labor, retail, and service workers accounted for 68% of COVID-related deaths in the first year of the pandemic. In New York, it is likely that many of these workers lost their lives while on duty.

While we expressed our gratitude with words, it is time to show our support through actions.

New York’s mom-and-pop workers do not feel safe in their workplaces due to frequent robberies and attacks.

In New York City, incidents of shoplifting are significantly underreported.

According to a survey by the National Supermarket Association, 93% of member stores have been victims of shoplifting, with 60% experiencing theft on a daily basis. This means that every day, New York City supermarkets are targeted by shoplifters.

These are mostly family-owned businesses with already narrow profit margins. Local stores have reported a loss of $300 million in revenue due to retail theft.

Despite around 63,000 complaints from merchants, most have gone unresolved.

These businesses have had to allocate 70% of their funds towards security measures, which is unsustainable.

Workers in these stores should not have to fear for their safety, even when security guards are present.

This is an unsustainable situation, and it is time for Albany to take action. Governor Hochul has been a strong advocate for addressing retail theft as a priority issue.

She understands that for communities and small businesses to thrive, safety must be prioritized and workers must feel secure.

Concrete steps to take

Her call for additional funding to combat retail theft is crucial.

This funding would enable important initiatives such as deploying State Police to target retail-theft rings, providing resources for district attorneys to prosecute property crimes, establishing a State Police unit to address smash-and-grab incidents, and ensuring support for local law enforcement in combating retail theft.

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

With 10,000 diverse stores, we support legislation and policies, including bills introduced by state Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton and Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos, that elevate assaulting a retail employee or owner to a class-D felony.

We also endorse legislation that addresses the sale of stolen goods and raises subsequent offenses to grand larceny in the fourth degree.

We need Speaker Heastie to listen to us. We are black, brown, and immigrant-owned businesses, many of which are located in The Bronx and his district.

We simply want to operate and work peacefully and safely.

This is a critical moment for New York. We must decide who we prioritize and protect.

It should not be those who frequent our stores to abuse cashiers, harass our workers, or intimidate our customers.

During the height of the pandemic, everyone appreciated our essential workers; now we need the government to stand up for them.

If Albany wants to show support for working-class immigrant workers this year, passing strong protections for them would be a meaningful step.

We asked a lot of these workers during the worst of the pandemic, and now we owe it to them to stand up on their behalf.

We cannot afford to delay any longer.

Nelson Eusebio is with the National Supermarket Association

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