By DAVID A. COOK
Over the past two weeks, we’ve all seen the pictures on social media or the nightly news. Missourians are flooding into their local grocery stores to stockpile cleaning supplies food and, of course, toilet paper. They pile into these stores because they are worried. They pile in because they want to protect their families and because they want to feel safe.
Throughout it all — working longer hours than ever before — there are grocery store workers like the men and women of Local 655. They scan every item, load supplies into bags or cars. They fetch carts and baskets, they stock shelves faster than ever before. Then they wake up, and they do it all over again.
First, let me say that I have never ever been more honored to serve this organization, and I’ve never been more humbled to serve as its president. I’ve been a partner of this union for over 40 years. I never thought I would see something like this: a moment in which our partners are more necessary to society than ever before.
As the nation begins to understand just how important Local 655 partners – and their non-union counterparts in grocery stores — are to society, the nation is also beginning to understand that these hard-working men and women are uniquely at risk and uniquely in need of our support.
We’ve learned a lot in the last few weeks about COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus that has infected at least 144,000 Americans as of this writing and killed more than 2,600. One of the things we’ve learned is that it’s highly contagious.
And there are our partners: scanning every single item in a customer’s cart, standing only a few feet from hundreds of them for six, eight or 10 hours per day.
There are our pharmacy technicians, fulfilling an important role in their communities: literally providing lifesaving medications. Some of their clients are sick, and the ones that aren’t desperately rely on their medication to function. And there they are, facing these folks with courage and a desire to serve.
WORKING UNDER DANGEROUS CONDITIONS
While many of us are being advised to cancel plans, stay home and avoid others, thousands of men and women across Missouri are putting on their work shoes every day and going to crowded places filled with people. They are at risk. They are exposed.
But they do the work anyway. They do it to serve their communities. They do it because they care about their customers and their families.
But the men and women in Local 655 and across the state deserve more than our gratitude. I will never stop telling my partners how proud of them I am, or how I stand in awe of what they are doing every day. But those partners deserve more than gratitude. They need our action and our hard work.
That’s why this union is fighting for enhanced safety measures, like shorter store hours to give them time to clean and stock the stores properly. We’ve relaxed certain work rules to give companies the flexibility they need to meet higher demand, we’ve expanded our Health & Welfare benefits for covered partners effected by COVID-19. We’ve worked with our major employers and are asking our other employers to pay appreciation bonuses for our partners so that they can earn extra money during this time.
TEMPORARY EMERGENCY RESPONDER CATEGORY NEEDED
But that’s not enough. What we need is action from our elected officials. We need Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to follow the examples of governors in Minnesota, Vermont and Michigan. In all three of those states, grocery store workers and pharmacy technicians have been classified as temporary “emergency first responders.” These executive orders granted special state benefits to the workers on the front lines of this crisis.
I have repeatedly contacted Parson to ask for the same benefits for all those workers here in Missouri.
At his daily press conference on Wednesday March 25th — from a secure location with no public interaction — Parson said these workers providing the public with essential services DO NOT deserve the classification of “emergency first responder”.
This designation would protect worker safety and potentially save lives. During this pandemic, it means they could get access to free childcare while they serve the public, free coverage for all coronavirus treatments, priority tests, and medicines and personal protective equipment.
Parson has failed to act on behalf of grocery workers, like my partners and friends, and like the tens of thousands keeping families fed around the state. His failure could actually cost lives. It should not be acceptable in this time to simultaneously heap praise on workers and then fail to do anything to act on their behalf.
For those of you that want the governor to take action, I would strongly urge you to contact his office and demand that he help these workers.
Call him: 573-751-3222 or Online: https://governor.mo.gov/contact-us.
The words of praise from our governor don’t mean much if you won’t act, and Parson won’t act, but there’s still time. Take action, Governor. Words are cheap. Actions matter.
As we say around here: “I’m from Missouri. You’ve got to show me.”