Front-line grocery store workers demand better safety enforcement, hazard pay as COVID cases surge

As Food 4 Less employees worked the checkout counters and restocked a store in Boyle Heights Tuesday, a group of their colleagues rallied outside on their behalf. Among them, 18-year-old Jesus Moreno, who has been on the job for four months -- it's his first job.

Moreno was joined by Liz Rodriguez, who's been an employee for nearly two decades, and loves her job.

"I do. Because I love to talk to people," she said.

Moreno got the job when his mother became unemployed.

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"Probably the most rewarding part is the fact that I'm able to provide for my family," Moreno said. "The hardest part is just dealing with some of the customers who just don't care about your safety at all."

As COVID-19 infections rise significantly, the union workers are demanding Kroger reinstate hazard pay, better safety enforcement and regular COVID-19 testing.

"Sales at Food For Less have gone up 15% over last year -- that's a huge increase in profits for this company," said Kathy Finn of UFCW Local 770.

Rodriguez, who works two jobs to make ends meet, said one of her concerns is overcrowding in the store.

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"I told my store manager, I said, 'please don't get mad at me. But I have to tell you that the store is full of people and you have to do something about it,'" said Rodriguez.

She spoke with us in front of a memorial for those who died after becoming sick with COVID-19, including some local grocery store workers.

"I feel really, really sad because I know we are all in the same boat," she said. "My condolence to all the people who lost their families and loved ones."

One customer walked by and expressed her gratitude for the front line workers to her young granddaughter, explaining the sacrifice grocery store employees are making.

"There's a lot of people that are putting their lives at risk for us, for us to be able to come to the market and have, you know, our daily meals," said Ana De La Torre. Her daughter is also a front line worker at a hospital.

A representative of Kroger told Eyewitness News:

"Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, ecommerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials.We are proud of our dedicated associates who are on the frontlines, serving our customers when they need us most. Since March, we've invested over $1 billion dollars to reward our associates (i.e., Appreciation Pay, Hero Bonus and Thank You Pay) and safeguard our associates and customers. We continue to listen to our associates and take steps to ensure their safety and well-being. We also continue to execute dozens of safety measures and provide support to our associates through benefits like paid emergency leave and our $15 million Helping Hands fund, which provides financial support to associates experiencing hardships due to COVID-19, including childcare."

The union representing the workers says it's about consistency in enforcing safety measures and better pay.
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