LANDOVER, Md. (August 5, 2021) – Today, the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400, the union of 35,000 essential food and retail workers in the Mid-Atlantic region, is calling on elected and business leaders to reinstate a universal indoor mask mandate to protect essential workers. The union is also calling for the reinstatement of hazard pay to compensate workers for the serious risks they face on the job.
The call comes amid a new explosion of COVID infections from the Delta Variant, which is 1,000 times more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus. A new report shows that COVID cases in the U.S. have more than doubled in the past two weeks and nearly two-thirds of U.S. counties now have elevated COVID transmission. Last week, the District of Columbia reinstated a universal indoor mask requirement for all individuals above two years of age.
UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici issued the following statement:
“We applaud Mayor Bowser in Washington, D.C. for reinstating a universal mask requirement and we call on more elected and business leaders to follow suit. Short of vaccination, universal masking is the most effective method to prevent the transmission of this disease. Anything short of a universal mask mandate for everyone is a performative safety measure that fails to protect the health of essential workers.
“Many of our grocery chain employers have resumed requiring employees to wear masks, but have failed to require customers to wear them as well. Masks are most effective when everyone wears them – not just employees, but the great number of customers who shop in our stores every day. We fully support wearing masks to protect customers. Why can’t customers be required to wear masks to protect us?
“Some of these employers would have us believe they simply cannot enforce mask usage among customers. These companies won’t let you walk into a grocery store without shoes on, but we’re supposed to believe it’s too hard to make customers wear a mask? We’re not buying it. No one wants a return to lockdowns, so we must act as soon as possible to stop this disease from spreading any further. For every grocery retail employer requiring employees to wear masks, we are calling on them to immediately require customers to wear masks as well.
“Moreover, if the workplace is hazardous enough to require masks, shouldn’t workers be compensated for risking their health to come to work? These employers should immediately reinstate hazard pay. So long as masks are necessary, there is a hazard, and so long as there is a hazard, there should be hazard pay.”
Last week, UFCW welcomed a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mask policy recommending that some vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans resume wearing masks indoors in high-transmission states. But the union was clear the guidance does not go far enough and called for a national mask mandate to protect essential workers on the front lines. UFCW raised serious concerns about the CDC mask guidance in May which led to states and retailers ending mask mandates for vaccinated individuals, despite COVID risks millions of American workers still face on the frontlines as the pandemic continues.
HAZARD PAY TIMELINE: The union represents workers at four major grocery chains – Giant Food, Kroger, Safeway and Shoppers. All four chains provided hazard pay for a time, but ended the programs even before the peak of the pandemic:
- Giant Food provided a 10% pay increase to store associates but ended the program on May 30, 2020 shortly before issuing a one-time-only bonus of $200 for part-time associates and $400 for full-time associates, paid on July 1, 2020. The company issued another round of one-time “appreciation” bonuses in early November 2020 in the amount of $300 for full-timers and $150 for part-timers. Giant provided a final one-time bonus in the amount of $300 for full-timers and $150 for part-time hourly associates in March 2021.
- Kroger provided a one-time bonus of $300 for full-timers and $150 for part-timers, paid on April 3. This was followed by a $2.00/hour increase for to all associates for all hours worked and ended the program on May 16, 2020. The company then issued a one-time bonus of $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates, the final installment of which was paid on June 18, 2020. In February 2021, the company provided a one-time $100 “thank you credit” and 1,000 fuel points for hourly associates, as well as a one-time payment of $100 to associates who received the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Safeway provided an additional $2.00/hour premium for all hours worked and ended the program on June 13, 2020. The company then paid a one-time bonus equal to $4 per hour for the average hours worked per week between March 15, 2020 and June 13, 2020. In December 2020, Safeway announced a new “Frontline Hero Award” for all hourly associates equivalent to $5 per hour for weekly hours worked between Fiscal Weeks 28 and 39. The company also provided a $100 incentive payment for associates who received the vaccine, in addition to a 10% off store coupon.
- Shoppers provided $2/hour hazard pay from March 15, 2020 through July 4, 2020. The company also paid double overtime rates from March 15, 2020 through June 6, 2020.
COVID NUMBERS: As of July 30, 2021, UFCW confirmed that among the union’s members nationwide, there have already been at least:
- 482 frontline worker deaths and at least 96,600 frontline workers infected or exposed
- 197 grocery worker deaths and at least 43,300 grocery workers infected or exposed
- 132 meatpacking worker deaths and 22,400 meatpacking workers infected or exposed
- 67 food processing worker deaths and 13,100 food processing workers infected or exposed
The United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 is led by President Mark Federici and represents 35,000 members working in the grocery, retail, health care, food processing, service and other industries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. www.ufcw400.org