By Michael Abeyta

DENVER (CBS4) – They are out there day after day making sure we have food to put on our tables. Some Colorado grocery store workers say they’re potentially putting themselves and their families in danger by doing their jobs.

They report having to enforce health mandates like mask requirements themselves.

“Health and safety roles should not be up to myself or my co-workers,” said Sandra Chavez.

(credit: CBS)

She worked at grocery stores for 37 years, but she’s never seen as many of her co-workers get sick as she has in the past nine months.

“I’ve known several people in my store that were infected with COVID,” she said.

She’s also seen friends who work for other stores die after getting sick at work.

“It’s heartbreaking that they are going through this alone. They’re dying alone,” she said.

She thinks employers and the state and local governments should be doing more to protect essential workers like bus drivers, grocery store workers, barbers and medical professionals. She thinks without enforcement of health regulations more and more people like her will suffer and die.

“We feel it’s such an important need that the state or city to have a reporting hotline for employees to feel safe reporting these violations,” she said.

She also thinks essential workers should be given hazard pay. Safeway and King Soopers both offered extra pay to employees when the pandemic began, but that money has since gone away.

“And in that time cases have only risen in the stores,” said Chavez.

Safeway, where Chavez works, says they will pay a onetime Frontline Hero Award to employees. The reward is based on hours worked between Sept. 6-Nov. 28. For employees who worked an average of 40 hours, it comes out to an extra $200.

Chavez thinks they are still not being compensated for the risk they are being put in while they are at work.

“These companies are making lots of profits during this pandemic. Unfortunately, you know, they’re not passing it along,” she said.

Chavez says COVID-19 has upended her life. She has underlying health conditions so she moved to the overnight shift to try to avoid exposure. She also says she hasn’t seen her mother in months for fear of getting her sick and she worries about bringing the virus home to her kids.

She just wants to feel comfortable going to work again.

“It’s so important when we leave our house, and we come back home that we feel safe,” Chavez said.

CBS4’s Michael Abeyta reached out to Safeway. They said they have gone to great lengths to ensure their stores are safe and clean. They also say they interact with local health departments and their employees on a regular basis to make sure their employees and the public are kept safe from the virus.

Michael Abeyta