- About 225 United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) members have died of COVID-19 and more than 29,000 have been infected or exposed, according to UFCW testimony.
- The union released the numbers Wednesday as part of a call to Congress to pass legislation that would ensure adequate health, safety and financial protection for essential workers.
- Among the requests, UFCW President Marc Perrone requested compensation for families of essential workers who died of COVID-19, cash benefits to those who are hospitalized with the virus, expanded paid sick days and family leave, prioritized testing, free protective equipment and preventing retaliation against workers.
In his testimony, Perrone acknowledged some retailers like Safeway and Cargill for taking the right initiatives to protect workers and called out others like Amazon, Walmart and Kroger for putting "profits over people."
In March, Safeway and a local UFCW chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area agreed to additional worker protections. The move provided Safeway workers with flexible scheduling, expanded paid sick leave and paid time off for exposed workers and a $2 an hour pay raise for at least two weeks.
Retailers like Amazon have come under fire for their response to employee safety and health amid COVID-19. Workers at more than 50 Amazon warehouses have been infected by coronavirus, and employees have been vocal about their concerns. Some Amazon workers were reportedly fired for protesting working conditions, too.
"Strong, anti-retaliation protections must be in place in order to ensure that workers who feel ill, or who are suffering from COVID-19, can remain at home, in quarantine for the full period of time recommended by the CDC, until it is safe to return to work," Perrone said. "Without these actions I can promise you that more Americans will needlessly get sick and die."
Though the private sector has been largely responsible for worker safety and health, the U.S. Department of Labor passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in April, which mandates certain employers give paid sick leave for workers who contract COVID-19, are quarantined or have to care for a family member who is quarantined. The act is in effect through the end of the year.
The CDC has also provided guidance on worker protection during the pandemic, and the government has deemed grocery store workers as essential.
Some in the labor industry don’t think the government has done enough. In a recent report, ProPublica said the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has loosened safety standards amid the pandemic as it was flooded with complaints from workers. As a result, many grocers have relaxed the operational changes they made in response to the coronavirus including one-way aisle requirements and shortened store hours.
But many grocers have implemented policies and offered additional benefits to their front line workers. A majority have provided face masks and gloves, installed plexiglass barriers and staffed up to ensure there are enough people to handle the workload. Others have added special bonuses, hourly hero pay and paid sick leave.