The pandemic has shown just how heavily we rely on on essential workers like Sheryl Saechao.

Image: MIKE KANE

EVERYTIME SHE CLOCKS IN at the Burien Fred Meyer, Sheryl Saechao is with family. It’s not just her fellow cashiers, the produce stockers, and the courtesy clerks she’s worked with for 23 years; both her young adult kids are also part-timers. When virus concerns closed all but essential businesses across Washington, many took to Zoom calls in pajamas. Saechao masked up and traded appreciation with nurses in scrubs who came through her checkstand. “They might have been thanking us, but I thanked them,” she says. As lines of shoppers snaked from her cash register, the store paid staffers small bonuses—a few hundred dollars max—before instituting a $2 per hour “Hero Pay” raise in late March. It was retracted less than two months later in favor of another one-time payment. Through it all, the self-proclaimed “local girl,” raised in White Center, donned a mask she sewed herself and, as she’s done since her first grocery gig in 1992, went to work to sell us our food. —AW


I have customers that are like family. You know who has a grandchild, who just bought a house. You know who lost the house, who’s got a divorce, who lost their mom.

I’m like their hair stylist. But who do you see more? You buy groceries more than you get your hair cut. Twenty-three years of seeing them once a week—that’s a lot of connection. 

Back in the ’90s, the pay felt reasonable. I bought this house I’m in for $160,000 in 1999. My coworkers now are barely paying their rent or their mortgage.

I have a coworker that was living in her car for five months.

I haven’t even hit 20 bucks [an hour]. If I was by myself. I’d be screwed.

When [the pandemic] started, my coworkers were scared. They were frustrated. They were mad that we had tons of people in our store lines, that the store wasn’t closing every other checkstand. They went to the CDC so much the CDC said quit [filing complaints].

Someone in our management told me that the day after they closed school, we made more money than we did on Black Friday.

The first month people were just acting stupid. Toilet paper! Who would’ve thought that toilet paper would have been the thing?

Shelves were empty. Kind of like Snowmageddon.

Every day you clock in, you’re praying that you don’t get it, that your coworkers don’t get it. We did have a coworker that got Covid.

People were making more in unemployment than we are making, being in danger out in the public. Is that fair? My daughter said, “Mom, this is a slap in the face.”

If they give us a higher wage our turnaround rate would be a whole lot less. We wouldn’t have to train people that are just going to go,
“I can make more money somewhere else.” 

I’ve had customers tell me what happened to them when they had [Covid]. I’m like, Oh, great. You had it. You could still have it. And I just touched everything you touched.

They installed Plexiglas around our checkstand; it’s annoying. If they would’ve just closed every other one, we wouldn’t have this problem. It’s a little safer, but not much safer. 

They’re taking our temperatures [at work] and mine comes in at like 91, 92 degrees. It’s bogus anyway, so why are they even doing it? It’s kind of a joke.

The company runs radio and TV commercials left and right. They’re thanking their frontline workers that are out there working during this pandemic. Thank us by paying us.

I got a lot of thank yous from customers. They’re thanking us because it’s dangerous.

Hazard pay wouldn’t be as big of an issue if we already had a decent wage.

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