Office Depot, Staples Employees Speak out Against Stores' 'Essential' Categorization

Office Depot and Staples workers are protesting their designation as essential amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered nonessential businesses temporarily and forced many other retail workers onto the frontlines of the global health crisis.

In leaked internal memos from both office supply stores obtained by Business Insider, Staples argued it was an essential business because it sells cleaning and products that allow people to work from home as well as supporting hospitals. Office Depot's memo also argued it is providing shipping and mailing services throughout the crisis.

Employees at Staples, however have started a petition on Coworker.org asking that the stores be temporarily closed for their safety, saying that their staying open is "unnecessary." The petition had racked up more than 7,200 signatures as of Friday morning.

"It is unnecessary and unsafe to be open during a PANDEMIC. We are not an essential store and corporate is fighting and begging to stay open, claiming Staples is essential and putting employees and their families at risk," the petition reads. "Staples should temporarily close stores and pay their employees for the time being. Many employees are at high risk ages, are immunocompromised, have asthma, etc. This is NOT RIGHT and extremely unsafe. In order to curb this virus and the spread of it, Staples needs to close their doors and pay their employees."

To Business Insider, one Office Depot employee in South Carolina noted, "It's confusing to me why they say we're essential if they're not stocking us like we're essential," saying their store had not gotten shipments of toilet paper in two weeks and was out of web cameras and monitors.

"The company has completely sold out of all products that deemed us 'essential' weeks ago with everything now on back order and no ETA for us to be restocked," a Kansas Office Depot employee added to the publication, explaining that hand soap, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper have gone so quickly they hardly have enough to stock the employee bathroom.

A New Jersey Staples employee added of the essential designation, "It is misleading. Essentially they are still operating as an office supply store with those essential supplies."

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He added: "The last freight I worked had a small handful of toilet paper."

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