Grocery Workers Request First Responder Designation
Roughly 30 grocery store employees have died as a result of COVID-19 and another 3,000 have been directly impacted by the virus, according to a recent report by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
On April 14, Kroger, the country’s largest grocery store chain, and the UFCW, issued a joint statement calling on federal and state governments to designate grocery store employees as first responders. Doing so will allow priority access to personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
Supermarkets have remained open throughout the pandemic. Thousands of employees continue to work and many of these people have been working extended over-time hours to compensate for co-workers that have contracted COVID-19 or are taking time off to care for ill family members. Many of these employees are working without any protective gear.
Industry experts anticipate difficulty continuing to retain and add new employees to staff the ever increasing demand for new jobs. Walmart is currently looking to hire 150,000 new employees. While many stores are paying an additional $2/hour in pay, it is unclear how many people are willing to take on new jobs, at a relatively low level of pay, in an industry that could put their lives at risk.
Early on, many stores refused to allow employees to wear masks and gloves. That is changing. Many stores have installed plexi-glass panes in checkout lanes to separate the staff from the shoppers. Wegmans and Trader Joe’s are two of the many stores that have implemented wellness checks before the start of each shift, where employees must answer several questions and have their temperature taken. Stores are limiting the number of people that can shop at once and visual markers are being drawn to maintain social distancing while in checkout lines. Sanitizing schedules are being moved up, including more frequent cleaning of high touch areas.
Despite these efforts, the UFCW stated that as of April 13, 30 supermarket employees have died from COVID-19 and another 3,000 workers have been directly affected. A recent survey shows that the top safety concerns of these employees are the shoppers themselves. The survey results show that the majority of shoppers ignore social distancing guidelines.
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