Student employees face challenges working through pandemic

COVID-19 has had massive repercussions throughout the service and retail industries where many students work

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By Evan Sherman

Making sure the menus are arranged correctly, senior Kyle Moylan sets a table at Nick and Jake’s.

Ben Wieland and Avery Gathright

Businesses across Kansas have shut down or drastically changed their operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and some student employees have been dragged along for the ride. 

Senior Cooper Foltz has worked at Walmart, which was designated an essential business and has remained open for the duration of the pandemic. 

During the initial springtime surge of cases, Foltz watched his company fall into chaos. He considered resigning after two years of work because of the compounding challenges posed by disease policies. 

“At first, I was tempted to quit my job due to how little procedure there was during the initial panic,” Foltz said. “We unloaded trucks with more than 3000 boxes everyday, the store was flooded and out of stock across all departments, and it felt like the employees were the only ones wearing masks.” 

Even more concerning for Foltz was the response from customers, who were worried and panicked about COVID-19. 

At first, I was tempted to quit my job due to how little procedure there was during the initial panic.”

— senior Cooper Foltz

“In the beginning, questions about pandemic necessities were repeatedly asked, often getting in the way of our stocking. There came a certain point where we weren’t allowed to tell customers if we had toilet paper, even as we would stock up to ten pallets in the back room before putting it out,” Foltz said. “Every day at work felt like Black Friday for about a month before people started settling down.”

At more specialized businesses like Hello Beautiful, a salon where sophomore Ally Sul works, COVID restrictions were rolled out more rapidly.

“Masks have always been required at the salon, even before the mandate. We even would spray the bottoms of peoples’ shoes before they would enter the salon,” Sul said. “The salon chairs and people’s stations have always been six or more feet apart. We also sanitize every chair and the credit card chip pad after every use before being used again.”

Ultimately, though, all three decided to continue working. Foltz decided to stick it out as a sense of normalcy returned to his workplace. A month after the initial panic, Walmart implemented masking and social distancing policies mandated for customers; the business also instituted a temporary 500-customer limit on the building. 

Other workers have tried to look on the bright side: sophomore Casey Cunningham, who works at Minsky’s Pizza, has enjoyed the social aspects that came with getting a job during a pandemic.

“It was really nice to just be out of the house and be able to earn some money,” Cunningham said, “I really enjoyed being able to see people again after being in quarantine, it was just nice to talk to people in person again.”

Issues, though, still exist within the workplace — Sul described the challenging customers she sometimes interacts with at the salon.

“The only issue has been when there are clients that don’t want to wear their mask,” Sul said. “I even had a client take off her mask and yell at me because the stylist who was doing her hair wasn’t there that day.”

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