Safety first this holiday season

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By DAVID A. COOK
President

There are a few things that happen with regularity in the grocery industry during the holiday season.

First, sales soar as customers flood stores for their holiday needs. This means more possibilities for overtime in some locations; it means college casual employees returning for a few weeks to lend a hand; for some of you it means longer shifts and more hours.

Sadly, there’s something else that happens during the holiday season. Incidents of theft and robbery tend to tick up during this time. Perhaps it’s out of the additional pressure for people to provide this time of year, or perhaps it’s merely the result of economic necessity. Whatever the reason, the uptick is generally pretty predictable.

With these predictable trends every year, I usually like to take some time to remind you of a few things, and that’s exactly what I’d like to do in this column.

YOU’RE ENTITLED TO ADDITIONAL HOURS, OVERTIME
First, some of you are working under contracts that allow employers to temporarily bring in non-union help during busy times. However, this also means that you’re entitled to additional hours, including overtime, as a result.

Contracts vary, and I urge you to contact your union rep for clarification, but broadly speaking I can say that if you are working for one of our major employers and you see non-union individuals doing union work, it probably means you’re entitled to additional hours. In short, make sure you let your manager know if you’re interested in additional hours during this holiday season.

DON’T PLACE YOURSELF IN HARM’S WAY
Next, I’d like to remind you all that with the increased incidents of theft and robbery there is simply no reason for you to ever place yourself in harm’s way. Our employers are insured, and no amount of money or product is worth your life. Do not put yourself in a position to be harmed by someone breaking the law. Many of our employers utilize security guards for this very reason, and if you have any reason to suspect that a crime is being committed, alert your manager immediately and do not expose yourself to risk.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS DURING THE PANDEMIC
There’s a new point I’m forced to make this year. The COVID pandemic has changed our industry in some fairly jarring ways, but perhaps none more noticeable than the sudden common use of masks among the general public. Now, some of you may live in areas where masks are not commonly worn, but the vast majority of our grocery stores are currently located in places with mandatory mask orders. At many of our locations, the overwhelming majority of customers are wearing masks.

We know that masks work. I won’t be re-litigating that argument here, as the science is decided and widely acknowledged. Sadly, we know some people simply refuse to take this basic step to help protect public health. Many of you have probably already encountered customers refusing to wear their masks.

I want to make something absolutely clear: you should not be forced to deal with a customer refusing to wear a mask for your safety. For example, if you’re a cashier and a customer comes through your line without a mask on, then you are perfectly within your rights to seek out your manager and request that they assist the customer, rather than yourself.

I know these interactions can be uncomfortable. If you prefer to simply assist that customer yourself rather than get your manager, then that’s your choice. I say this not because I am encouraging you to make a scene, but rather to let you know that your safety is paramount, and your union will always stand with you on these issues.

GROCERY WORKERS ON THE FRONLINES
Grocery workers are on the frontlines during this pandemic and they have routinely been failed by too many in our society. Politicians have failed to act quickly to protect you and provide you with economic relief, too many employers have been slow to enact safety measures or failed to provide adequate hazard pay, and too many members of our communities simply do not care about the health of others, and are refusing to take the most basic steps to keep you safe.

We’ve tried lobbying politicians in Missouri and Washington D.C. on your behalf, we’ve repeatedly called on our employers to increase pay for frontline workers, and we’ve asked the public to respect those workers by putting on a mask and practicing social distancing. While some of our employers have risen to the occasion some of these efforts have fallen short.

YOU MAKE THE HOLIDAYS HAPPEN
Across Missouri the general public is relying on you to make the holidays happen. They rely on you to help them put food on their tables. The holidays simply do not happen without reliable products at grocery stores provided by hard-working men and women. You do all of this every year, and this year you’re doing it during a pandemic.

There is frankly no way to truly thank you for the work you’ve done and you’ll continue to do, but we can make you this promise: we will continue to do everything in our power to keep you safe, no matter what.

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