Work for essential workers, like cart pushers, has changed during the pandemic.
On top of ensuring carts are accessible for customers and clearing parking lots of carts, these workers have been required to take additional precautions. Sanitizing carts is a top priority as well as wearing masks, which trap in body heat during Kern’s warmest days.
“This job is touch,” said a Wal Mart cart associate, who requested to remain anonymous. “It’s extremely hard having to go in the harsh heat back and forth all day. I’ve been asked countless times by serval individuals how I do this for eight hours (a day) and my response every time so I don’t seem so miserable is, ‘Hey it’s bringing home the cheddar, I ain’t complaining,’ but in the back of my head, I’m telling myself ‘only if you knew.’”
The state of California has regulations in place in order to protect those working in excessive heat. The state of California has a heat illness prevention code, also known as the “Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez Heat Illness Standard,” that protects employees who work in excessive heat in work environments such as agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, transportation or delivery of agricultural products, construction materials, or other heavy materials. Cart pushing falls under the transportation of heavy materials.
This law requires employers to provide employees with access to shade when temperatures surpass 80 degrees; allows employees to take a few minutes of rest to cool down; requires employers to provide necessary aid and have in place high-heat procedures when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees; provides access to water and so much more.
“For all associates who work in outside environments, especially cart associates, we strongly emphasize heat illness training when they first get hired,” said a Wal Mart manager who requested to remain anonymous. “We make sure that they know that they need to stay hydrated, that they understand how many carts they can push at a time, as well as making sure that they know that they must communicate with us when they have feelings of fatigue or a sense of heat illness.”
The manager recalls a time when a cart associate began having trouble gain composure. In response, staff sat down the car associate and gave them water. After, the associate was send home for the day. Their daily procedure consists of prevention methods.
The manager said they also ensure Customer Service Managers routinely check in on cart pushers every 20 to 30 minute to check for heat illness, as well as other things such as traffic conditions.
“But our main focus is the heat during the summertime,” the manager said. “We make sure they themselves and the Customer Service Managers recognize the symptoms of heat illness and encourage them to take additional breaks when needed. We provide water so that we make sure they stay hydrated.”
However, the cart associate who requested to remain anonymous said the managers do not frequently check in on them.
“Not once have I been asked by any of them if I am doing okay or need a break,” they said. “We are treated like animals and are expected to work, work, and work. Of course, if we are not feeling well we tell. Doing so will make us be looked down upon by others.”
The cart pusher employee said they are not provided with shade and have to ask to get ice for their water refills. But these aren’t the only aspects making the job difficult during the pandemic. The safety precautions have added more challenges.
“The only aspect in which it has affected me is having to wear the mask while working and having to keep it on with all the sweat dripping down and soaking into it, making it smell and feel uncomfortable,” the cart pusher said.
However, the manager said heat illnesses at work are a rare thing because the company takes the necessary precautions.
The manager said, “I have been in this store for almost half a decade, and we have never come close to an associate undergoing heat illness due to our precautions being taken.”