- The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has published a call from a group of more than 100 health experts asking all 50 states to require people to wear masks in public spaces.
- In an advertisement published in The New York Times, the union published an open letter signed by representatives of organizations including Harvard and Stanford universities and medical journals including The Lancet and Nature. The letter states that mask usage has been shown to “substantially lower community transmission” of COVID-19 and that requiring people to cover their faces is “highly effective” at reducing the spread of the disease.
- The UFCW, which said in a July 10 statement that it paid for the advertisement as a public service and did not play a role in writing the letter or gathering signatures, criticized states for not enacting face mask mandates. “With governors in the majority of states refusing to make masks mandatory, millions of Americans are needlessly being put in danger every day. It’s time for elected leaders to pull their heads out of the sand and make masks mandatory in all 50 states to protect these brave workers and the millions of families they serve,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in the statement.
The UFCW’s decision to publicize research about the effectiveness of face coverings in reducing the spread of COVID-19 is the latest in a series of actions the union has taken to draw attention to the dangers faced on the job by its members, who include grocery, food processing and meat packinghouse workers.
The union has repeatedly said that grocery workers work in dangerous conditions that put them at increased risk of contracting the virus, and asked public officials and food retailers to take measures to protect them. At a June 25 press conference, Perrone said every state should have an enforceable mask mandate.
In the statement it issued to announce the advertisement, Perrone again drew a connection between mask usage and the safety of supermarket workers.
“In every grocery store in America, frontline workers are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way to make sure our families have the food we need” Perrone said. “Without immediate action, these brave workers will continue to get sick and die.”
The UFCW has a low profile in the advertisement itself. The union is mentioned only in small print at the bottom, where it emphasizes that it did not develop the letter or fund the research it points to.
The letter featured in the advertisement was spearheaded by an initiative called #Masks4All, which describes itself as a movement to urge people to wear homemade masks in public to combat COVID-19. In addition to asking governors to put face mask mandates in place, the letter also asks businesses that serve the public to require workers and customers to wear masks even if doing so is not required by authorities.
A key obstacle for proponents of face mask is that police in some areas have said they won’t enforce the mandates. For example, the sheriff’s office in Montgomery County, Texas, said it would not cite people for ignoring Gov. Greg Abbott’s July 2 face mask order because it “could subject our agency, and Montgomery County as a whole, to civil liability as stopping someone for a face covering related issue could be construed or misconstrued as a detention.”
In April, as the pandemic gained steam, the UFCW partnered with food retailers including Albertsons, Kroger and Stop & Shop to demand that public officials classify supermarket employees as emergency responders to make it easier for them to access coronavirus testing and personal protective equipment like masks.
More recently, the UFCW tried to rally public support to convince grocers to reverse their decisions to eliminate the “hazard pay” programs that paid grocery employees extra for their work during the pandemic.