Grocer workers across the country say morale is crushingly low as the pandemic wears on with no end in sight. Overwhelmed employees are quitting mid-shift. Those who remain say they are overworked, taking on extra hours, enforcing mask requirements and dealing with hostile customers. Most retailers have done away with hazard pay even as workers remain vulnerable to infection, or worse. Employees who took sick leave at the beginning of the pandemic say they cannot afford to take unpaid time off now, even if they feel unwell.

The mounting despair is heightened by the lack of other job options: Supermarkets are among the few bright spots in an industry that has been ravaged by covid-related store closures and a sharp drop-off in consumer spending. The retail sector has shed 913,000 jobs and chalked up more than a dozen bankruptcies during the pandemic.

“At the beginning they valorized what was deemed a dead-end job, but four months later they don’t even treat us like humans anymore,” said Fox Wingate, 24, who works at a Safeway in Maryland.