Coronavirus: Supermarket employees concerned over workplace conditions

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- With a rising number of novel coronavirus cases reported among supermarket employees, big chains are implementing safeguards, but tension is building among employees at many stores.

The major supermarket chains are taking new steps to retain the workforce, improve working conditions and safeguard the public.

A deli service manager at Ralphs, Karla Barrera, says she is conflicted about going to her job.

"So its something that's very difficult knowing that anyone could be infected. And you could just catch it and it is something that is not easy. I mean it is life and death. It is hard," says the working mother.

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The Kroger chain, which includes Ralphs supermarkets, is raising wages by $2 an hour.

Workers can also count colleagues who have tested positive. The United Federation of Commercial Workers 770 reports seven union members testing positive.

"So we know that they were potentially infecting other people when they were working at the store," says Kathy Finn, secretary-treasurer of the bargaining unit.

The stores are located in downtown Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades, Van Nuys, Monterey Park and South Los Angeles. Numbers are not known for non-union markets.

A number of safeguards have been implemented, including sneeze shields at the check out counter. Supermarkets get a top to bottom disinfecting overnight. Workers are now allowed to used masks and gloves.

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The union says that crowd control measures present the biggest potential hazard. They vary store to store. The union wants mandated regulation that would require customers lining up outside every store and a monitor limiting the customers allowed to come in. Customers are often drawn to stores where there is no line outside but then find people bunched indoors.

Working conditions are bringing some to their knees.

"They're crying, and they're calling their union reps, you know, and crying about their fears and frustrations about what is happening," says Finn.

What Ralphs worker Karla Barrera tells herself and customers is to stay calm.

"Someone has to be there, filling your shelves, cleaning for you guys, sanitizing. So just please be patient and we will make it," says Barrera.
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