The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union on Friday sent a letter to 49 CEOs of top U.S. supermarket chains — including Walmart, Costco, Whole Foods and many others — condemning them for a failure to extend emergency pay and protections for grocery workers who are working on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak.
Retail and grocery industry observers are keeping a close watch on worker compensation as federal, state and local governments look to reopen businesses and public facilities and restart their economies — even as health authorities say the coronavirus threat remains amid stronger safety and social distancing measures. In the grocery retail sector, some companies have extended $2-per-hour bonus payments for store associates and other workers through May, while others have not announced extensions.
As of May 15, the UFCW estimates that at least 65 grocery workers have died and 9,810 workers have become sick or been exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The UFCW is the largest food and retail union in the United States with 1.3 million members.
In the letter, UFCW International President Marc Perrone urged retailers to reverse their decisions to end so-called hazard pay for their employees, and to publicly recognize that the health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to cost lives all across the country.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, many grocery retailers have implemented emergency pay and protections for grocery workers who are working on the frontlines. Most of those programs included $2 per hour wage increases for hourly workers, along with bonuses.
Now expanding the union’s efforts across the grocery retail landscape, UFCW President Perrone (left) said in his letter to supermarket owners, “Millions of American grocery workers have been rightfully called essential by our nation’s elected leaders. Given the daily risks faced, these workers deserve critical protections, benefits and a higher wage for as long as this public health crisis endures. That your companies are even considering cutting the pay of these frontline workers, while you experience record sales, is shocking in its indifference.”
The letter continued: “If you truly believe that the threat of COVID-19 has passed for your workers, then you should be willing to admit this publicly. Until that day comes, you have a responsibility to provide your workers with essential protections and benefits, including so-called hero/appreciation/hazard pay, until this terrible threat has passed.
“For the sake of these workers, our families, and our nation’s food supply, we ask you to remember your responsibility to ensure that these workers are receiving the premium pay that they have rightfully earned by facing the very risks that so many Americans — including all of you — have been lucky enough to avoid.”
Among retailers the letter has been sent to are Walmart, Costco, Publix, Whole Foods, H-E-B, Aldi and dozens more.
Earlier this week Walmart announced plans to pay out another cash bonus for all U.S. full- and part-time hourly associates, including at Sam’s Club. The bonus will be the same as the first one announced March 19: $300 for full-time and $150 for part-time hourly and temporary employees. Recipients will include hourly associates in stores, clubs, supply chain and offices, drivers, and assistant managers in stores and clubs, who worked amid booming customer demand for food and other essential supplies since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in March.
One retailer that has already announced plans to extend the pay period is Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers, with 158 stores. The natural retailer will continue its $2 per-hour hero pay increase for its team members through May 31 due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The raise became effective March 23, and $1 of it will be a permanent increase. It applies to hourly employees who work in the stores, bulk repack production and warehouses.
Late Friday, UFCW Local 7, which represents more than 21,000 grocery workers in Colorado and Wyoming, announced that Albertsons and Safeway stores in the region will continue to provide the $2 per hour "hero pay" through May 30. The representatives also committed to evaluate additional extensions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
On Tuesday, UFCW’s Perrone provided testimony in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that examined the matter of employer liability during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our members are incredibly hard-working men and women. They are also on the frontlines of this pandemic,” Perrone told lawmakers. “UFCW supports measures to make workers safer and rejects calls for employer immunity, which would only exacerbate the current crisis. The best way to keep our essential businesses up and running, and to reopen additional businesses, is to ensure that workers have the protections they need.”
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