- Grocery retailers’ cooperative ShopRite has agreed to a COVID-19 hazard pay deal to retroactively compensate nearly 50,000 union workers for work this summer, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) announced in a press release Wednesday.
- The deal includes all hours worked between July 26 and Aug. 22, covering the period after the initial hazard pay provided during the first wave of the pandemic elapsed. ShopRite employees represented by a UFCW local union or a Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) local will receive the premium pay, which will be a lump sum payout equal to $1 per hour for all hours worked.
- The agreement comes at a time when retailers are reevaluating their hazard pay and employee bonuses as health officials warn that coronavirus cases may surge during the holidays.
The ShopRite deal marks a major union victory less than two months after the UFCW launched its national campaign calling on employers in the grocery industry to compensate workers for the risks of working during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The union doubled down on demands for retailers to reintroduce hazard pay and paid sick leave last week amid the record-breaking surge in coronavirus infections across the country.
The UFCW said it confirmed that 109 grocery workers have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic and that more than 48,000 have been infected or exposed. The actual death toll among grocery workers is likely higher than estimates, however, because retailers don't usually have to report deaths to health officials or customers.
Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio worked with the UFCW to pressure grocery chains to restore hazard pay during the second wave of the pandemic in July.
Despite significant sales gains, according to a recent analysis from The Brookings Institute, a number of retailers, including Kroger and Walmart, decided to forego hazard pay programs during the early summer, and, subsequently, faced criticism. In September, the UFCW and Stop & Shop reached an agreement to provide a new round of bonuses to thousands of workers, making it among the few chains, like Ingles Markets, that have brought back hazard pay.
Experts warn that the U.S. is entering the darkest phase of the pandemic to date, and the severity of this latest chapter could further amplify calls for worker protections and recognition. What the national retail chains decide on worker hazard pay may have a ripple effect for smaller players to up their own worker compensation programs.