Op-Ed | New York’s essential workers in retail need Albany’s help

In the Bronx, there was a 63% increase in shoplifting complaints in 2022 compared to 2021. In Manhattan, shoplifting is up 44% and in Brooklyn it’s up 49%.
Photo Dean Moses
The morning of Sunday, Feb. 26, started as any other day in my store. Workers got to my store on East 194th Street in the Bronx in the morning, and they proceeded normally. Little did we know that was all going to change.

In the afternoon, two people came into the store and began to pummel a cashier. The attack stemmed from an incident the week prior, when the cashier politely asked a customer to wait her turn behind other customers before checking out. The woman became irate, and said she was going to come back and beat her up.

One week later she did.

The cashier does not remember much from the attack, but it was caught on video for all to see. The cashier was jumped out of nowhere at her register. In the ensuing melee, she was hit, had her hair pulled and was shoved. Even though everyone was taken by surprise, the big heart that most New Yorkers have quickly took over, and customers jumped in to help her, as did her co-workers. Just as quickly as it started, the assailants ran out of the store. The police promptly came.

It was a horrifying experience. She could have been severely injured or even killed, as we have seen happen to other retail workers. This was all because someone was asked to wait her turn in line.

While the video and subsequent media stories may have shocked many New Yorkers, the truth is shoplifting and assaults have been a regular occurrence for retail workers. In the Bronx, there was a 63% increase in shoplifting complaints in 2022 compared to 2021. In Manhattan, shoplifting is up 44% and in Brooklyn it’s up 49%.

This has just been a regular workplace occurrence for far too many retail workers across New York City.

But these crimes are more than just statistics. These workers are often immigrants and people of color — the working class New Yorkers who make up the backbone of our city. At the same time, these are the workers who helped keep New York City alive at the height of the pandemic. We didn’t have the luxury of staying home. We did not have the option to head to a country or beach house. And we did not have the ability to do our meetings on Zoom. Back then, we were honored and lauded by elected officials who came to us for photo opps. We were essential workers.

Today, they are still essential workers.

Shoplifting is a problem that requires common sense solutions from our elected leaders in Albany. That’s why we joined Collective Action to Protect our Stores (CAPS). CAPS was formed because enough is enough, too many stores have been robbed, too many workers have been attacked and too many consumers are inconvenienced because of security measures taken to prevent shoplifting. The cashier at the store should feel safe at her register, and not worried that she’s going to be attacked out of nowhere.

That’s why we are proposing legislation that’s going to help protect workers and keep stores safe. Among the legislation is a bill carried by state Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton and Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos that makes assaulting a retail employee or owner a class D felony, such as the case with livery drivers, utility workers and other essential workers.

After all, we’ve been through, I don’t know how legislators in Albany can’t honor our sacrifice by taking this act to protect us. Other bills in Albany include one that creates the offense of fostering the sale of stolen goods and another that raises a subsequent offense to grand larceny in the fourth degree.

Elected officials need to do something to protect us. We can’t wait any longer.

Pedro Gocio is the owner of Food Universe in the Bronx. 

For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes