The Kroger Co. has joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) union in urging federal and state government to designate grocery stores emergency first responders during the coronavirus pandemic.
With the move, the nation’s largest supermarket operator and its second-largest, Albertsons Cos., now back UFCW’s effort, which aims for grocery workers to be classified as “extended first responders” or “emergency personnel.”
“Given the significant daily risk these workers face, we are calling on all of our federal and state leaders to take immediate action. Specifically, we are requesting our nation’s leaders to assign a temporary designation of first responder or emergency personnel status for all grocery workers. Make no mistake, this designation is absolutely critical as it will ensure these frontline workers have priority access to personal protection equipment like masks and gloves,” Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen and UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.
Cincinnati-based Kroger and UFCW said their announcement follows direct advocacy on this issue with elected officials over the past five weeks.
“This urgent call for temporary first responder or emergency personnel status is not just about protecting grocery store workers; it is also about protecting the customers they serve and our nation's food supply in general,” McMullen and Perrone noted. “We urge our national and statewide elected leaders to act now and protect these essential workers.”
UFCW kicked off the grocery worker first-responder status push last week with Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, led by an open letter to policymakers and influencers in a full-page print ad in the April 7 issue of The New York Times.
Since then, UFCW also has called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue guidance that protects frontline workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and food processing plants from COVID-19 and launched a national campaign called #ShopSmart that urges grocery shoppers to wear protection and practice social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus.
In announcing #ShopSmart yesterday, UFCW invited store associates from major chains to discuss the danger that coronavirus poses to themselves, their families and customers as they continue to keep supermarkets running.
“Since the onset of this pandemic, the Kroger family of companies associates, who are also members of the UFCW, have been working tirelessly to make sure that millions of American families have the fresh food and products they need. As all Americans are now witnessing, grocery workers play a critical role in our communities and they must be protected,” McMullen and Perrone stated. “Working together, Kroger and the UFCW have already taken significant steps to keep Kroger associates safe and reward them for their incredible sacrifices throughout this ongoing crisis. The truth is more must be done, and it must be done now.”
According to Washington, D.C.-based UFCW, some states have taken action to help bolster protections for grocery store workers. For example, in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, governors issued executive orders to make grocery work environments safer. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday ordered employers to provide essential workers with free cloth or surgical masks to wear when directly interacting with the public. 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 pandemic.
Efforts also are under way at the local level. Today, for instance, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an interim urgency ordinance to protect retail grocery, drugstore and food delivery platform workers during the COVID-19 outbreak in unincorporated L.A. County. With the measure, all grocery and drug stores are immediately required to set sanitary practices and workplace safety protections on their premises and provide sanitizing products and protective face coverings to help safeguard vulnerable customers, members and delivery workers.
“As more guidelines are being placed for first responders, we must set stricter guidelines for those in the food and grocery sector,” L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas commented. “Food and grocery stores have become essential in this difficult time, and we do all that we can to support and protect them with the resources we have available, including appropriate protective equipment and policies.”
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