When Will Smith’s And LANL Make ‘The COVID-19 Adjustment’?


I wonder when Smith’s Marketplace and  Los Alamos National Laboratory are going to make what I call the “Covid-19 adjustment.”

First, the Marketplace—which as we all know, happened very much with the help of Los Alamos County—is owned by “bigger than the governments of many nations” Kroger.  And, in our town, Smith’s enjoys, fundamentally, a near monopoly.

Los Alamos residents pay far higher prices for groceries at Smith’s here than for the same groceries at Smith’s in the highly competitive Albuquerque market.  And we do so apparently for the privileges of (1.) standing in lines 7 and 8 carts long, (2.) then to have to use self-checkout no matter how burdensome that might be or (3.) to have to sack our own groceries to help exhausted cashiers or, simply to expedite finally getting out of there.

When I complained to a manager—not that Kroger’s managers have any real authority—he explained “that with the COVID thing” that Kroger’s can’t find people who want to work.

Little wonder when cashiers sometimes must work for hours without so much as a bathroom break and are faced with, if he or she calls in sick or is unable to get to work due to weather, being suspended for two weeks.  Now there’s a constructive, respectful and productive management strategy of a type that perhaps reflects the real cause of a worker shortage!

Perhaps wealthy Kroger could find workers if they paid—rather than a paltry $10 or $12 an hour to entry-level cashiers—$20 and $30 an hour, not unreasonable “hazard pay” during a pandemic and enough to justify commuting from Espanola, Jemez Springs, Velarde or other distant outposts, and surely, considering what we Los Alamos folks pay for groceries, within Kroger’s reach.

Then, there’s “the lab” that somehow believes it’s possible for employees to work full-time remotely on “snow days,” never mind that on “snow days,” daycare facilities close, too, leaving remote workers doing the impossible:  Function like Old Mother Hubbard, brood in tow, while keeping lab managers happy with one’s productivity rate.  Surely it can’t be that lab management has no understanding or concern that being productive while caring for small children is a contradiction in terms!

So far, the lab seems to be taking the “let’s ignore the elephant in the room” approach.  Though many young couples have cheerfully turned entire rooms of their homes over, rent free, to lab use during the lockdown, the lab isn’t equally stepping up to solve the childcare dilemma or to at least acknowledge the plight of those working remotely while trying to care for small children.  

Rather than just assume that somehow young parents will make it work—and they do, often by working weekends to catch up on lab work—it’s time for the lab to draft policies defining what is on the clock as small children demand their parents’ attention, what is off the clock and what the lab might do to help find solutions, rather than it’s current “elephant in the room approach” of business—childcare or no—as usual.

Kathleene Parker
White Rock