Albertsons Cos. has partnered with the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) union in a national drive to get grocery workers classified as emergency first responders during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Under the effort, Albertsons and UFCW said Tuesday they aim to obtain a temporary designation of “extended first responders” or “emergency personnel” for supermarket associates. That classification will enable those grocery workers to be prioritized for testing and personal protection equipment as the country continues to battle the spread of COVID-19.
“Since the onset of this pandemic, associates in Albertsons Cos. stores, who are also proud members of UFCW union, have been working tirelessly to make sure that America’s families have the food and groceries they need. These men and women are sacrificing every day to protect our nation’s food supply, and now is the time for our leaders in state and federal governments to do the same for them,” Albertsons Cos. President and CEO Vivek Sankaran and UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a joint statement.
“The temporary designation of first responder or emergency personnel status would help ensure these incredible grocery workers access to priority testing, have access to personal protection equipment, like masks and gloves, as well other workplace protections necessary to keep themselves and the customers they serve safe and healthy,” they noted.
UFCW announced the joint effort, which is focused on both work-site and public safety, in an open letter to policymakers and influencers in a full-page print ad in the April 7 issue of the New York Times.
“Not only must we work together to protect first responders and health care professionals, but we must also protect the associates who work at our supermarkets, because their service to our communities is absolutely essential during this time,” the letter in the ad read.
“From the onset of this crisis, Albertsons Cos. banners and the UFCW joined forces to ensure supermarket associates would get the protections they need,” the ad said.
UFCW noted that some states have acted to give grocery store workers benefits and protections as first responders. For example, grocery associates in Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York can access to emergency child care. Also, in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, governors issued executive orders to make grocery work environments safer, the Washington, D.C.-based union said.
In March, the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) classified food industry workers as “essential, critical infrastructure” in the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, UFCW represents 1.3 million workers in the grocery, health care, meatpacking, food processing, retail and other industries in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico.
“This joint action is an example of how all Americans must work together to protect everyone working on the front lines,” Sankaran and Perrone stated. “This includes not only our brave first responders and health care workers but also associates at our nation’s grocery stores, who are providing communities with the essential food and supplies needed to weather this public health crisis.”
In the Times ad, UFCW also highlighted efforts by Albertsons to bolster employee and customer safety in stores and other facilities. The Boise, Idaho-based retailer’s COVID-19 measures include plexiglass protection at checkout, in-store social distancing guidelines, stepped-up cleaning and sanitation procedures, and sick leave benefits for associates diagnosed with coronavirus or those who are required to self-quarantine.
Albertsons also has instituted an extra $2 per hour appreciation pay for frontline associates; offered part-time employment to displaced restaurant, foodservice and hospitality workers; and pledged $3 million to help feed families in need during the coronavirus crisis.
The second-largest supermarket operator, Albertsons Cos. employs more than 250,000 grocery workers at its 2,253 food and drug stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under the banners Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Shaw's, Star Market, United Supermarkets, Market Street, Amigos, Haggen and United Express.
For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.