Labor shortages at supermarkets across the country have increased in recent weeks as the COVID-19 omicron variant continues to spread. Workers are calling sick, and there are not enough cashiers, baggers, and stockers, forcing some supermarket chains to slash hours of operations. Compounding labor woes, supply chains are still severely snarled as food shortages are being reported nationwide.
WSJ reports supermarkets are having difficulty staying open as workers call out sick because of infection. Some grocers are frantically hiring new employees, using temporary employment agencies, and overworking current staff to keep stores from shuttering.
The seven-store supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey had 200 employees in quarantine or isolation as of last Thursday despite a 90% employee-vaccination rate. This represents about 7% of all employees.
“We sort of feel like we’ve got to buckle down for round two,” Chief Executive Stew Leonard Jr. said, adding that the loss of employees to infections has hampered operations.
American supermarket chain Giant Eagle Inc. which operates 470 stores, has avoided closing locations amid the omicron surge by adjusting hours of operations. The company’s chief compliance officer, Vic Vercammen, said the company had seen a spike in workers calling sick because of infection.
Across Alabama and Georgia, Piggly Wiggly stores are overscheduling workers and using temporary work agencies to keep store shelves stocked as staffing woes developed this year because of the omicron spread. Operations have been affected, and store hours have been reduced in some locations.
In the Southeast, Harris Teeter supermarkets, owned by Kroger Co., will close one hour earlier, effective Monday, so that employees can restock shelves due to the loss of stockers.
Staffing shortages also impacted Fresh Encounter Inc., a 100-store supermarket chain based in Ohio. The chain is now closing at 10 pm local time versus 24 hours a day.
Michael Needler Jr., the chain’s chief executive of Fresh Encounter, said, “the staffing situation started out very tenuous. Layering in Omicron vacancies on top of that makes it very, very stressful.”
On top of staffing issues, supply-chain bottlenecks are plaguing supermarkets, resulting in bare shelves across the country.