Requiring customers to wear masks is an important step, but access to testing is critical to ensuring frontline workers are safe on the job

RICHMOND, VA (May 26, 2020) – United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400, which represent thousands of union workers in grocery stores and food processing facilities in Virginia, applauded Governor Northam today for issuing an order to require customers to wear face masks in retail establishments beginning Friday. 

“We are pleased the governor has mandated customers to wear masks, but the most urgent need facing essential workers right now cannot continue to be ignored,” said UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici. “Governor Northam must make universal testing available to every worker on the frontlines immediately. Many of the retailers and food processing facilities where we represent workers have provided paid sick leave to employees diagnosed with this disease, but testing remains unavailable until it’s too late. We must make universal testing available so every worker can make an informed decision before coming to work and risking infecting their coworkers.”

“With no vaccine in sight, this crisis is far from over. We are tracking at least 125 confirmed cases in grocery stores and food processing facilities in Virginia. The reality is likely much worse, but without adequate testing, there is no way to know how many workers have been affected. At least two of our members in the Commonwealth have died,” Federici added. “With adequate access to testing, these deaths may have been prevented.”

“We are once again renewing our call on Governor Northam to declare all grocery store, pharmacy, and food processing workers as ‘first responders’ so they may access free testing, treatment and protective equipment to stay safe on the job,” Federici said.

Along with the Virginia AFL-CIO and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, UFCW Local 400 launched an online petition earlier this month targeting Governor Northam calling on him to put the safety of workers on the frontlines first, including requiring customers to wear masks while shopping.

UFCW has called on every employer as well as policymakers at the local, state and federal level to institute a suite of new policies to protect workers and customers, including:

  • Declaring grocery store workers “first responders” or emergency personnel so they have access to the benefits and protections others in those categories receive, especially access to testing, treatment, and personal protective equipment (Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont have already done this)
  • Limiting the number of customers in a store to 10 people per 10,000 square feet and a maximum of 50 people in a store at a given time to be enforced by additional security staff (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, and Rhode Island have recently placed limits on customers in stores, as has Kanawha County, WV)
  • 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 (Maryland has already done this)
  • 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
  • Public address announcements at regular intervals reminding people to maintain a 6-foot distance from employees and other customers
  • Requiring a six-foot distance be kept from cashiers and other customers in line at check stands
  • Requiring that only every other check stand and self scan be open
  • Requiring shorter store hours or 7am-9pm 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 an hour and double time for any overtime hours worked
  • Requiring stores to supply masks to all employees and customers to wear while in the store


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.