OPINION: Heroic work and huge risks continue for grocery workers

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By STEVEN M. POWELL
President, Local 881 and UFCW International Vice President

The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging for almost three months now. Grocery stores continue to be chaotic environments, for both workers and customers alike. Shortages of products and empty shelves are still a reality due to supply issues and hoarding.  Worried customers are frustrated, and sometimes forget to follow the new rules of social distancing, causing great distress for many essential grocery workers.     

The bottom line is: working or shopping at the store should NOT be a life-threatening activity!

MEMBERS GETTING SICK
This virus has changed our society and will continue to have long-lasting impact on the industries we work in, especially retail.

The hardworking members of my union, Local 881 UFCW, who work on the registers, bag groceries, keep shelves stocked, and fill your prescriptions at stores like Jewel-Osco, Mariano’s, CVS, and other chains are getting sick.

Unfortunately, we have seen over 250 of our members test positive for COVID-19, and without better protection we anticipate this number to grow.

WORDS OF APPRECIATION ONLY GO SO FAR
There has been a newfound appreciation for grocery and pharmacy workers and their heroic service on the front lines of this pandemic. CEOs, politicians, celebrities and media all have recognized that people like Local 881 members, doing the hard work of keeping our society going during this crisis, deserve respect and admiration!

But kind words and temporary gestures only go so far. These workers are exposed to the virus on a daily basis. Although some companies have chosen to provide temporary hero/appreciation pay, we believe our workers will need extended support, pay, testing and protections for as long as this dangerous virus wreaks havoc with our communities.

WE ALL HAVE TO DO OUR PART
In order for stores to become safer places in the midst of this virus, we ALL have to do our part:

  • Customers need to wear masks and closely adhere to the recommended social distancing guidelines.
  • Companies need to provide adequate protective equipment, paid leave and support for sick workers, and they need to continue to share the immense profits they are seeing with the workers on the front lines keeping the doors open.
  • Elected officials at every level of government need to stop paying lip service to the hard work of grocery and pharmacy workers and finally designate them as First Responders. First Responder designation is the only way to provide the protection needed by our essential grocery workers.

Grocery workers have been asked to take on the role of hero, and we believe they deserve the respect of heroes, not for just the immediate crisis, but for the long-term.

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