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Grocery store clerks should be considered 'first responders' says union rep

DMV's largest grocery store employee union calls on increased safety measures in stores- to protect workers and customers.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — The largest union of grocery store workers in the DMV wants grocery store clerks designated ‘emergency responders’ as one measure to make grocery stores safer places to work.

Jonathan Williams, with the United Food and Commercial Worker Union Local 400 wants D.C.’s mayor, as well as state governors in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia, to designate grocery store employees as "emergency workers."

Williams said the classification would give employees better access to free childcare and safety supplies like masks, as they run short. 

“So that they are first in line to get this equipment while they are continuing to serve our communities," he said.

It’s a designation state officials in Vermont and Minnesota have already made.

Williams said grocery store workers have been working under difficult conditions.

“It’s always a lot more intense right now than it normally is," he said. "Instead of buying a couple of snacks, [customers are] buying a couple hundred dollars worth of groceries at a time – and every customer is doing that."

UFCW Local 400 has more than 20,000 members in the DMV, and represents employees who work for some of the largest chains in the region including Giant Food, Shoppers, Safeway and Kroger. Williams said as far as safety protections and ‘hazard pay,’ it’s a patchwork across the region and depends on the store. Williams said that could means some low-wage workers may feel forced to choose between paying the bills and public safety.

Daniel Wolk, communications and community manager with Giant Food, which operates 163 grocery stores in the DMV, confirmed its stores will have plexiglass dividers installed at checkout counters by the end of this week. Wolk said employees are being paid an extra 10% at this time, and they are eligible for paid sick leave if they test positive for COVID-19.

Employees at Shoppers and Safeway are also getting paid an additional $2 an hour.

Beth Goldberg, manager of community and public affairs for Safeway, said in a written statement: “Employees will receive two weeks of paid sick leave if they test positive for COVID- 19, and they will also pay any associate who is asked to self-quarantine by their health care provider or by our company, based on current CDC risk assessment guidelines, and up to two weeks of replacement pay while they are unable to work.”

UFCW Local 400 is calling on all grocery stores to implement a list of safety precautions, in order to protect both employees and customers:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

As for customers – people are asked to limit their visits, order online and respect 6 ft. distancing guidelines as much as possible. 

UFCW has launched an online petition here.

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