- Frontline workers in the food-retailing, food-processing, meatpacking and healthcare industries should be paid a minimum of $15 per hour in light of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) said Thursday. The union also wants grocers and other employers that have ended “hazard pay” programs to restore the extra compensation.
- The UFCW is also calling for the establishment of a national, publicly accessible registry to record COVID-19 cases in frontline workers. The union wants companies with more than 1,000 employees to be required to provide monthly data on workers who die from or are sickened by the disease, or who are exposed to it.
- In addition, the UFCW wants all state and local authorities to require people to wear face coverings in public places, and to compel employers to enforce those mandates. “If our national airlines can ... do this, there is no excuse why retailers like Kroger and Walmart can’t do the same, especially [given] the fact that we have more workers being exposed in these stores than we do on those planes,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said during a virtual meeting with reporters.
The UFCW is accelerating its efforts to convince grocers to pay workers more against a backdrop of rising reports of COVID-19 cases in the supermarket industry and in the overall population.
According to the UFCW, at least 82 grocery workers have died from COVID-19, with deaths peaking at 46 in April. More than 11,000 supermarket industry employees have been infected by or exposed to the virus, with the rate picking up speed in May, the union said. Across all the industries where UFCW represents frontline employees, 238 workers have died from COVID-19 and almost 29,000 have been exposed to or sickened by the virus, the union said.
The disease has recently been gathering momentum in the United States, with cases increasing in the South and West even as they decline in states such as New York and New Jersey, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Beyond pay-related issues, the union is concerned over the lack of uniform safety standards to protect workers from the disease, and is particularly unhappy that even when people are required to take protective steps like wearing face masks, they often fail to comply.
”America’s food, retail, meatpacking and healthcare workers should not be the ones that have to do the enforcement. It should be the companies and the government,“ Perrone said during the press call.
The UFCW’s relationship has at times cooperated with grocers to call for improvements for workers as the pandemic has unfolded.
In April, the union worked with Albertsons to place an advertisement in The New York Times urging authorities to classify grocery workers as “extended first responders” or “emergency personnel” so they would have easier access to coronavirus testing. The same ad also highlighted the extra "appreciation pay" Albertsons was giving its workers at the time — and has since stopped.
That same month, the UFCW issued separate joint statements with Kroger and Stop & Shop that called on government officials to give grocery workers an emergency designation. The statement the union put out with Stop & Shop also revealed that the grocer had extended its hazard pay program, which the company has more recently said will end on July 4.