Last week, Kotaku reported several times on GameStop’s arse-dragging procedure for operating during the coronavirus outbreak. But GameStop isn’t the only physical game store whose employees are feeling forced to choose between their jobs and their safety. Employees of the regional chain Game X Change are also unhappy with how their employer is handling the situation, several of whom spoke with Kotaku about their concerns.
Game X Change, founded in 1992, is a video game retailer with over 100 locations throughout Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and other parts of the southeastern United States. Currently, Game X Change’s owners have instituted a policy of only allowing ten customers in a store at one time, in an effort to increase the distance between people. Stores have also instituted a curbside pick-up option, which several employees described as “rushed” and “poorly put together.”
Much like with GameStop, employees who spoke to Kotaku said they are being left to source cleaning supplies locally, which continues to be a crapshoot due to ongoing panic shopping. Game X Change wrote on Twitter that its staff “has been working hard to keep themselves, store surfaces, and our products sanitised.” Employees also say that they have been told the company is an “essential retailer” and will remain open even as states begin shutting businesses down, echoing past statements by GameStop before the retailer closed its stores.
“The situation here is dire and they used GameStop’s controversy to fly under the radar when I was hoping it would instead get them in hot water too,” said one employee, who asked to remain anonymous, to Kotaku via email. “But now, after three days of having confirmed cases in my city, with some originating from literally a football field away, we’re still open. Corporate is ‘working from home’ while myself and many others are exposed in the front lines.”
“We just got the order to shelter in place today from the county judge,” said another employee. “I hoped that the higher ups would do the right thing and not put up a fight or put their employees’ health at risk; instead it appears they have no interest in closing their doors. As the pandemic has progressed, corporate has declined to stop the practice of accepting trades. Our location is located right next-door to a medical clinic that takes walk-ins. In a time where there is a global pandemic, keeping this specific location open next door to a place where there are patients with illnesses is madness.”
“They do not want to close us at all,” a third Game X Change worker said. “If any employee chooses not to work, then they are told they will not be paid since they are not working. This even goes for salary managers as well.” When employees question having to work in these conditions, the worker told Kotaku, “the follow up answer is, ‘Well you do realise you won’t get paid, right?’ They are not understanding this is a health issue not a money issue.”
Game X Change has yet to respond to a request for comment.
Some employees also claim Game X Change corporate is spreading false information. “I’ve read several articles that said wearing gloves can make things worse for the wearer and anyone around them,” vice president of sales Elvio Gomez appears to tell workers through a private Discord channel in a screenshot provided to Kotaku. An employee also said that Gomez instructed stores not to use gloves in a direct contradiction to guidelines provided by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that say gloves are a vital tool in limiting the virus’ spread while handling items that may have come into contact with an infected person.
A common theme in discussions with Game X Change employees was that they were willing to lose their jobs rather than risk their lives selling video games during this pandemic. But that’s an issue that goes beyond Game X Change, GameStop, and other retailers. In industries across the world, those making the least for their labour are being forced to confront covid-19 head-on without the appropriate tools or policies to protect themselves.
“My coworkers and I are angry and scared of what will happen if our stores are directly responsible for more of the spread of the virus, and corporate being silent on what they’re doing to prevent that is making it a much more stressful experience,” another Game X Change employee said. “It seems fully like they’re using this as an opportunity to increase profits instead of taking public health and safety into consideration.”