Councilmembers support declaration to provide free testing, treatment and protective equipment to grocery workers on the frontlines of crisis
WASHINGTON, DC (April 3, 2020) – Several members of the D.C. Council are calling on Mayor Bowser to declare grocery, pharmacy, and food processing workers as “first responders.” The designation would provide access to free testing, treatment and protective equipment for workers on the frontlines of the Coronavirus crisis and is supported by UFCW Local 400, the union representing grocery workers at Giant Food & Safeway stores in the District.
“Our grocery store workers are some of the most essential workers we have, providing food, nutrition, and vital necessities,” said At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. “We need to protect their health and safety on the job and give them the same protections we give other essential employees, like first responders.”
Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, who represents Ward 1 where the first confirmed case at a Giant Food store occurred, said, “The District currently has a Stay-At-Home Order in place, however our grocery stores remain open to ensure residents can purchase what they need to stay home and comply with the Order. Our grocery store employees are undeniably on the front lines, risking their health to keep our city operating. Not only do these jobs not allow for workers to practice social distancing, but they require close interaction with residents, some of whom may be a part of our vulnerable populations. We must make every effort possible to protect our workers.”
“Without grocery store workers, we just can’t function during this health emergency,” added At-Large Councilmember Robert White. “If workers begin to feel unsafe and stop working, the ripple effect would devastate the entire city. Grocery store workers are on the front line, so DC must follow the lead of other states and deem them first responders.”
Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray, who recently held a press conference to express serious concern over food supplies at stores in his Ward, added, “I am proud to support the brave, hard-working women and men who staff grocery stores. Supporting and protecting these workers benefits each one of us and, above all, is our duty.”
“Ward 8 has a shortage of grocery options for our residents,” said Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White. “We cannot afford for these stores to put shoppers at risk of infection. We must know that the stores are safe – not just for customers but for employees as well. We have a facility where we could test grocery workers, but first we need Mayor Bowser to designate them as first responders so they are eligible for testing. These workers are on the frontlines of this crisis and we need to ensure they are protected so they can continue to feed our community.”
- Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont have designated grocery workers as “first responders,” similar to health care workers and other essential personnel. Maryland has designated grocery workers as “essential,” which provides them access to free childcare but falls short of providing much-needed access to the testing, treatment, and protective equipment to keep the public safe.
- At least one worker at Giant Food in Columbia Heights has tested positive for COVID-19, as have workers at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in the area, and many more cases are expected in the next few days.
- Free, dedicated testing sites have been opened for first responders, healthcare workers, and residents over 65, but grocery workers on the frontlines are not able to access these sites.
- UFCW launched an online action targeting Mayor Bowser and surrounding governors to designate grocery store, pharmacy, and food processing workers as “first responders.” The action has already generated hundreds of messages to Mayor Bowser as well as the governors of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia.
UFCW Local 400 has called on every employer to institute a suite of new policies to protect workers and customers, including:
- Mandating an additional 14 paid sick days to be used without the need to a positive COVID-19 test or quarantine order
- Mandating paid leave of 12 weeks for those in high risk categories such as those over 60, immune-compromised individuals, and those who need to care for sick loved ones
- Access to free childcare
- Increased security at all stores, both through store security and increased police patrols
- Banning any discipline relating to time and attendance
- Mandatory wiping down of grocery carts, self-scan screens, and credit card touch screens after each use
- Limiting the number of customers in a store, as the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, and Rhode Island have recently ordered
- Public address announcements at regular intervals reminding people to maintain a 6-foot distance from employees and other customers
- Requiring a 6-foot distance be kept from cashiers and other customers in line at check stands
- Requiring shorter store hours to allow for additional cleaning, stocking, and rest time
- Mandating that employees be allowed to wear masks and gloves even if they are not sick
- Requiring employers to provide adequate amounts of masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer
- Mandating hazard pay with a minimum of at least $2 about the current minimum wage and double time for any overtime hours worked
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 represents 35,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.