When a customer wearing a bright orange shirt wanted a refund on a gift card he purchased at a West Hollywood Rite Aid last December, cashier Marylou Fajardo never expected what happened next.
She informed the man that company policy does not allow refunds on gift cards, moments before he shoved her to the ground and began attacking her.
Fajardo tried her best to shield herself from the beating as her supervisor, Nelson Martinez, ran over to intervene. The combative customer then turned his attention to Martinez, pushing him to the ground and kicking him until Martinez's jaw was broken.
The incident was caught on store surveillance footage and obtained by the I-Team from the union representing the employees.
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These kind of attacks on retail workers appear to be on the rise at stores from coast to coast, the NBC4 I-Team has learned.
"It's dangerous going into work every day," Jeff Hall, a supervisor at a CVS in Temple City, told the I-Team.
"Every day, we have confrontations. Most of which are, 'Please put on a mask,'" said Hall.
In the most recent survey by the National Retail Federation, more than 60% of store owners said workplace violence is now the No. 1 threat to employees.
The I-Team reviewed surveillance video of brutal attacks on a security guard at an Apple store, on a department store loss prevention worker, and on the owner of a clothing and jewelry shop, who was rushed to the hospital and needed 14 stitches.
"I think that what we're seeing is people feeling more anxious and distressed," said psychologist, Luana Marques, a professor at Harvard Medical School who studies anxiety and depression.
"I think as the pandemic has dragged on, all of us have had moments that you're feeling a little more on edge, a little more irritated, and that makes sense as life has changed," Marques told the NBC4.
Workers from CVS and Rite Aid, who spoke to the I-Team, said they have been asking the companies to add more, full-time security guards and additional staffing to each store location. UFCW Local 770, who represents the workers, says the companies, in many cases, have refused to do that.
"As the pandemic continues on, people are more and more tense," said CVS store supervisor Jeff Hall. "It will get worse."
Both companies sent the I-Team statements addressing workers safety concerns:
FULL STATEMENT FROM CVS:
The safety of our employees and customers is a high priority and we have security measures in place that are continually reviewed to help ensure that all of our stores remain safe environments to work, shop and fill prescriptions. We have a zero tolerance policy for violence of any kind in all stores, and we cooperate with law enforcement in the event of any such incident.
We also recently renegotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the UFCW in California, which the members ratified last month. This new agreement added a number of safety features, including the creation of a joint labor-management committee, with store employees included, to address safety concerns in stores; greater access to safety training; and minimum staffing levels to help ensure employees feel safe, among others. We're proud of our long-standing, productive relationships with the UFCW, and we look forward to working together under the new agreement.
Another way we work to prevent violent incidents in our stores is through our ongoing work to combat Organized Retail Crime (ORC).
Criminal activities that are funded by ORC rings by targeting our stores and those of other retailers are a clear danger to our communities, so it is important that retailers, law enforcement and political leaders work together to solve this
problem. We are a national leader in the fight against ORC. Our team partners with
federal, state, and local law enforcement - as well as with other retailers - to identify and dismantle these criminal operations. Our ORC team has helped make our stores and communities safer by dismantling dozens of large-scale national criminal organizations.
In fact, earlier this month our head of ORC investigations testified in front of the U.S. Senate on this issue.
FULL STATEMENT FROM RITE AID:
Rite Aid views employee and customer safety as our first priority. We recognize our role as an essential health provider and are committed to ensuring everyone feels safe in our stores. Toward that end, we have security protocols and baseline staffing standards for all our stores. In addition, we are constantly reviewing our security protocols with our teams to create a safe environment for our associates and customers. We have been in communication with associates from our La Brea location, as well as UFCW 770 representatives, to listen to their concerns and review our policies as needed. These conversations have led to the creation of a Health and Safety Committee, which is represented by various UFCW local unions in Southern California and meets regularly to discuss local safety issues.