The California Grocers Association (CGA), California Gov. Gavin Newsom and labor leaders have agreed on statewide coronavirus safety standards to ensure consistent practices at all essential retail stores — including supermarkets — and enhance protection for employees and shoppers.
Under an executive order yesterday from Newsom, workers at food facilities are permitted to wash their hands every 30 minutes, or as needed, to augment sanitation measures. The order also gives two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to designated food sector workers if they are subject to a quarantine or isolation order or medical directive because of COVID-19.
“Today’s announcement expands on safety efforts already under way and provides added comfort to valued grocery store employees and customers that a consistent set of best practices is being followed by all essential retailers, regardless of size and location,” CGA President and CEO Ron Fong said in a statement late Thursday. “It also provides greater clarity to store owners in what has been a rapidly evolving flow of information from local, state and federal officials.”
Food sector workers deemed as part of California’s essential infrastructure labor force include farm workers, agricultural workers, grocery store associates, fast-food chain staff and delivery drivers.
Newsom noted that the order fills a gap left by federal relief that had provided similar paid leave benefits for employers with fewer than 500 workers.
Gov. Newsom's order gives two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to designated food sector workers if they are subject to a quarantine or isolation order or medical directive because of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom.)
“These workers on the front lines of this crisis are our unsung heroes for continuing to work to ensure that Californians have food on their tables during these challenging times, and we must do everything in our power to make sure they are taken care of at home and in the workplace,” Newsom said. “Making sure they have paid sick leave and added protections in their place of work is critical.”
Grocery stores across California have been bolstering measures to safeguard workers and customers since the coronavirus outbreak escalated into a national crisis over a month ago, according to Fong. Efforts by food retailers include plexiglass shields, one-way aisles, disinfecting of shopping carts, social-distancing markers and wearing of face masks by employees, along with deeper cleaning of stores and more frequent handwashing by associates.
“The top priority of grocery stores is the health and safety of employees and shoppers, which has taken on increased importance during this public health crisis. We welcome partnering with Gov. Newsom and labor to ensure consistent standards to protect employees and shoppers and help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Fong said.
“The governor’s executive order will ensure paid sick leave for all employees of essential retail companies with more than 500 employees who test positive of COVID-19,” he added. “The hardworking men and women at grocery stores have already been dedicated to keeping stores clean and restocking shelves as rapidly as possible so consumers can purchase food and essential needs.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council applauded Newsom’s order, noting that California’s essential food-sector workers have been “working day in and day out” to serve the state’s residents.
“The public’s safety and the safety of all workers in the food chain — from the fields to the grocery check stand — is of critical importance,” stated John Grant, president of Los Angeles-based UFCW Local 770. “The governor’s executive order will help deliver a basic level of security for workers facing exposure to COVID-19 and to the community who depends on these essential workers for our food. UFCW is proud to work collaboratively with Gov. Newsom and the California Grocers Association during this unprecedented crisis to take measures to protect workers, their families and the community, and keep the food supply strong and the public fed.”
UFCW 770 member Berenice Huizar, who works for The Kroger Co.’s Food 4 Less chain in Los Angeles, said, “Today, I am proud to call California my home. Gov. Newsom listened to frontline workers and made sure food chain workers can take paid sick leave. This will keep our families and community safer. No one should have to choose between looking after their health and putting food on the table.”
Newsom’s administration also has taken other actions to support food worker protections amid the pandemic, including recently issued guidance by Cal/OSHA for the grocery industry on best practices for physical distancing, disinfecting and the use of reusable bags. And last week, the administration released $100 million to support child care for essential infrastructure workers, including grocery workers, and vulnerable populations.
“Now more than ever, grocery workers are essential to the daily lives of Californians. The governor’s executive order mandating two weeks of paid leave delivers a basic level of security for workers facing exposure to COVID-19 as they perform their essential role on the front lines of this pandemic,” according to Andrew Zinder, president of UFCW Local 324, based in Buena Park, Calif. “It is crucial that workers who may be ill can stay home to take care of themselves and prevent the spread of the virus. We’re proud to have worked tirelessly for this agreement to keep our members and all food chain worker safe.”
Also in California today, the state's Department of Food and Agriculture released an open letter of thanks to the nation’s retailers, grocers and distributors for continuing to keep shelves stocked and food flowing.
“Our California farmers, ranchers and farmworkers understand the challenge this crisis has delivered to our retailer partners: to manage adequate supply, maintain efficient distribution and most of all provide a safe shopping environment for customers and employees. All of this has been accomplished with a level of care, service and dedication that makes us proud to be part of your supply chain,” wrote California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross.
The letter recognizes the efforts of warehouse workers pulling double shifts, truck drivers adding routes, in-store employees, direct-to-consumer serves and retail managers. In addition, the letter offers a promise from the agriculture community to continue to provide nutritious food for retailers to serve the community. “Each harvest provides a brighter future, and together we will do what we’ve always done to provide healthy nutritious food (and beautiful flowers) for your customers, our neighbors and communities across this state and nation,” wrote Ross.
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