The start of the virtual school year was a fight for Patricia Reveles, a pharmacy technician at a CVS in Los Angeles whose daughter is in fourth grade.
Ms. Reveles, 49, is single and has long relied on her mother to help with childcare. However, during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, she found that distance learning required more technical skill than her mother could offer. Her 9-year-old daughter needed an adult to help her when the internet went off or her iPad freezes, Ms. Reveles said.
That is why Ms. Reveles recently asked CVS, where she has worked for more than 20 years, to reduce her working hours to 24 hours a week so that she can be at home during the day to help her daughter while receiving some of the benefits to come with a full-time employee.
“I like my job and I am grateful for it, but I am a single parent and cannot be there for my daughter,” she said. A CVS spokesman said the company was working with Ms. Reveles’ union to try to comply with her request.
Mrs. Reveles is not alone. As the pandemic continues and schools begin across the country, women who work in retail are being forced to choose between keeping their jobs and making sure their children can keep up with distance learning.
Women in all types of professions feel this pressure. According to a study Last month, the Census Bureau had women three times more likely than men to leave their jobs due to childcare issues during the pandemic. The inflexibility of retail work schedules – where shifts can vary widely from week to week and employees only have the hours they have available – makes pressure on these employees particularly acute and is likely to lead more women to drop out the workforce.
“Outside of work care responsibilities are harder for women than men, and in retail in particular, you generally don’t have much control over your schedule, which can create a real crisis,” said Emily Martin, vice president of education and justice at work non-profit national women’s rights center.
Retail, the second largest private employer in the United States after healthcare, has been hit by the pandemic that left millions of people unemployed. Women made up nearly half of the 15.7 million retail workers before the pandemic, but accounted for 65 percent of the industry’s job losses between February and June report from the center.
Those who kept their jobs have been heralded as heroes and rewarded with bonuses and temporary raises during the first few months of the pandemic. However, many of these retail workers struggle to fulfill endless parenting duties while clinging to jobs that appear increasingly precarious in a weak economy.
So far, the federal and state governments have offered working parents little or no childcare. The current debate in Washington has centered on restoring the additional unemployment benefits that expired in July and on giving companies more tax deductions, ostensibly to help them stay afloat and keep the workforce.
But employees, union leaders and labor experts say none of these government subsidies have motivated companies to find ways to accommodate workers who need to supervise their children while they are in online school.
Amazon offers 10 days of subsidized childcare and asks employees not to pay more than $ 35 per day for daycare and $ 5 per hour for in-house babysitting. The benefit ends next month.
Rachel Belz, an Amazon warehouse worker in West Deptford, New Jersey, said she needed more coverage.
Before she left her job that month, she finished her shift at 5 a.m. and then only got a few hours of sleep before having to get up to watch her son.
“I’m not asking you to take care of my child,” said Ms. Belz, 32, whose son is in kindergarten. “I ask you to make it easier for me to take care of my child.”
Amazon said other steps are being taken to accommodate working parents, such as allowing employees to start shifts up to ten different times during the day and night. The company said these “unique start times” are intended to “give our employees more opportunities to bypass their children / kids’ schedules”.
Prandai Ramnauth, who works part-time at Bloomingdale’s Bloomingdale flagship store, faced a childcare crisis as early as last year following the death of her mother.
With a grant from Local 3 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, of which she is a member, she was able to continue working and pay for her son’s after-school care. The scholarship covered after-school care but did not cover the cost of babysitting during the day when she went back to work in June.
So Ms. Ramnauth relied on her 16-year-old daughter to take care of her third grade son.
“I told her that she had to help me, the only way I could have a job or pay the bills – we had to help each other,” she said.
But when school starts again, Ms. Ramnauth’s daughter has to concentrate on her own remote work.
Ms. Ramnauth, who works about 25 hours a week and is the only caregiver for her children, said she was considering taking vacation when she was trying to figure out her son’s needs during the day and when he had to submit his schoolwork.
That would have been a setback for Mrs. Ramnauth, who had just returned to work. The extra support her family has received from grocery stamps over the past few years is also in limboBecause she was receiving $ 600 a week in additional unemployment benefits, she was excluded from the program. She applied for assistance again when she no longer received the unemployment benefit.
Despite the sprawling size of the retail business, few workers like Ms. Ramnauth are unionized, making it difficult for workers to push for more family-friendly policies or even to speak freely about their work and treatment.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, women in retail full-time workers earn $ 34,000 year-round, compared to $ 42,000 for men. The group said that around 9 percent of women in retail trades lived in poverty in 2018, with poverty rates “significantly higher” for black women, Latin Americans and women with disabilities.
Women’s wages and benefits are unlikely to rise, especially in parts of the retail sector that are under extreme financial stress or facing bankruptcy.
Jennifer Perez, a general sales clerk at a Stater Brothers Market in Ontario, California, had to go from 40 to about 30 hours a week so she could better help her two daughters with distance learning.
Ms. Perez, 37, goes to the store at 3 a.m. and works until about 7 a.m. when she returns home to help with the online school. With less income, she and her family have cut expenses such as eating out and cable channels.
Ms. Perez said her manager was not thrilled with her request to move part-time, but she was grateful that he approved it. “I don’t know what I would do,” she said.
Onie Patrick, 37, works 12 to 28 hours a week as a part-time cashier at Aldi in Rockford, Illinois. She has four children who are in eighth grade, kindergarten and preschool this year.
Ms. Patrick usually works at night and her husband is at home during the day too. He takes care of the basic needs of the children, she said, but the virtual school has largely become their responsibility.
“He doesn’t really have the patience, he’s not that involved in your school, so he really doesn’t know about the schoolwork and the level of what you know or don’t know – it was mostly me,” said Dr. Said Patrick. “It seems like a lot of mothers take the brunt of it all.”
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