As confirmed coronavirus cases among supermarket employees continue to be reported, a union representing many of the essential workers is calling for additional measures to ensure their safety in the workplace.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents about 1.3 million employees in food and retail sectors, on Monday said at least 30 grocery store workers nationwide have died from COVID-19 and another 3,000 are at home sick.
Many of them lack personal protective equipment to use on the job, either because employers can't find any or refuse to buy it, according to UFCW President Marc Perrone. The union is also pushing for hazard pay and increased sick leave for employees.
"This is about life or death. Workers are being exposed and they are dying. Simply put, the COVID-19 pandemic represents a clear and present danger to our food workers and the nation's food supply," Perrone said.
He added that the danger will subside only when public and elected officials take action and when "the public changes their behavior when they shop."
In a survey conducted by UFCW, 85% of grocery store workers said they have witnessed customers not practicing physical distancing and 81% have witnessed the hoarding of food and supplies. Eleven percent of those surveyed said they have called the authorities to their stores over safety concerns.
The UFCW has partnered with Albertson's to launch a safety campaign aimed at designating grocery store workers as first responders. That would ensure they have access to testing, personal protective equipment and other assistance.
The union has already secured new protective measures for approximately 710,000 of its members across the country. The measures include shortened store operating hours, installing plexiglass partitions at checkout lanes and additional sanitizing protocols.
Perrone said the public should not expect strikes or walkouts and that market employees understand the importance of their jobs.
How to stay safe when going out in public for essentials such as food, gas