Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As worried shoppers buy in bulk, stress is mounting for retailers, warehouses and farms — which need more labor at the very time people are being told to stay at home.

Why it matters: America isn't running out of food. But there's increasing strain on the supply chain as the workers who produce and deliver our groceries are sheltering at home, quarantined or are (justifiably) too spooked to show up for work.

“The supply chain used to flow very evenly, but when you have surges, it takes more people," says Brian Beattie, senior vice president of sales at Lineage Logistics, which runs a large network of cold storage facilities.

  • Farms are anticipating labor shortages as the State Department delays the processing of H-2A visa workers from Mexico.
  • Truckers are finding it difficult to do their jobs as truck spots, restaurants and motels close their doors, reports WSJ.
  • "As grocery employees toil, some of their supermarket bosses can't sign up reinforcements fast enough," per NBC News.

And as the virus continues to spread, these workers are often in high-risk scenarios, working in close quarters for long hours.

  • This week, Amazon reported its first case of coronavirus, at a U.S. warehouse in Queens, per The Atlantic.
  • Many food producers say they won't be able to operate at full capacity while practicing social distancing.
  • American agriculture relies on 250,000 H-2A visa workers each year, and the industry is lobbying the government to make sure they can enter the country.

There are some efforts underway to assist food workers, but not enough, experts tell us.

  • Three states — Minnesota, Vermont and Michigan — have classified grocery workers as "essential" workers, making them eligible for child care and other benefits alongside health care workers, law enforcement and first responders. (Look for other states to follow suit.)
  • Food workers would be better protected with face masks, but there is a national shortage — even hospital workers don't have enough.
  • Robot food-pickers and autonomous trucks could one day prove helpful, but for now, the technology isn't ready to replace humans entirely.

"We don't know how long of a long term this is," says Ananth Iyer, a professor of supply chain management at Purdue University.

  • He says that food companies must adopt new policies to enforce social distancing at work, even if they're slightly less efficient.
  • "I'm hopeful that a lot of the manufacturing side and the supply-chain side can be managed in such a way to protect the employees and continue to get the product out," Iyer says. "This needs to happen yesterday."

The bottom line: Without the workers needed to harvest, produce and deliver our food, the entire supply chain breaks down. And governments and companies are lagging in their efforts to ensure that these vital workers are protected amid the pandemic.

Go deeper

Tech firms blast Trump's extended H-1B visa restrictions

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Tech companies reacted quickly and negatively Monday to news out of the Trump administration that it is extending a ban on entry of those with visas through the end of the year. Among those speaking out against the move are Facebook, Amazon, Google, Intel and Twitter, along with several tech trade groups.

The big picture: The Trump administration argues that visas like the H-1B widely used in the tech industry are responsible for taking jobs that American citizens could fill. Tech companies say they rely on these visas to fill positions with skilled workers from overseas when they've tapped out the American workforce.

Why discrimination persists in the workplace

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Despite laws protecting people from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion and sexual orientation — including last week's Supreme Court victory for LGBTQ workers — when it comes to actually holding firms accountable, the odds are stacked against workers.

Why it matters: The U.S. workplace is still rampant with discrimination, but the bulk of it is going unchecked as companies have figured out how to keep themselves out of court.

Trump to expand coronavirus-related immigration restrictions

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration will ban entry into the U.S. for foreigners on certain temporary work visas — including high-skilled H-1B visas— through the end of the year, senior administration officials told reporters Monday afternoon.

Why it matters: The highly-anticipated immigration restrictions expand on President Trump's earlier coronavirus-related immigration ban introduced in late April — which was also extended through the end of the year.