Following COVID-19 cases confirmed at area grocery stores, union demands widespread testing and more protection for workers on the frontlines
WASHINGTON, DC (April 2, 2020) – Following news of the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in several area grocery stores, UFCW Local 400 is urging Mayor Bowser to declare grocery workers as “first responders.”
The union, which represents thousands of grocery workers at Giant, Shoppers, and Safeway stores in the DMV area, is calling on Mayor Bowser to provide access to free, dedicated testing sites and protective equipment for grocery store, pharmacy, and food processing workers, as has been made available to other first responders in the District.
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.
“The District’s grocery, retail, pharmacy, and food processing workers are working tirelessly during this outbreak to ensure families get the food and supplies they need,” said UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici. “We need these workers to stay healthy more than ever before and protecting them is essential to our communities and the food supply.”
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. “But testing is largely unavailable to these workers until it’s too late,” Federici said.
“Our members working on the frontlines of this crisis are exposed to hundreds of customers per day and thousands per week, not to mention their coworkers, families and neighbors,” Federici added. “We must do everything in our power to ensure these essential personnel are not putting themselves at unnecessary risk or serving as unintentional vectors for the virus. Without adequate testing, there is simply no way to know how widespread their exposure could be. The time to take immediate action is now, now, now!”
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
Some employers, including Giant Food, Kroger, Safeway, Shoppers and CVS have taken some steps to provide temporary pay increases and sick leave, as well as enhanced cleaning procedures and social distancing protocols while employees are working during the crisis. However, these efforts fall short of the critical testing needed to protect grocery shoppers and employees. The details of those changes are listed on the union website at www.ufcw400.org.
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.