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Kroger cashier-mask-COVID.jpg The Kroger Co.
Retail executives receiving the COVID protection letter from UFCW included CEOs of The Kroger Co., Walmart, Amazon, Albertsons Cos., Costco Wholesale, Target, Ahold Delhaize and Publix, among others.

UFCW calls on grocery retail CEOs to boost COVID-19 safety

Union says surge of cases, Omicron variant threaten frontline workers, customers

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has sent a letter to 63 retail CEOs urging their companies to bolster COVID-19 protection amid a winter surge of infections and the emergence of the Omicron variant in the United States.

UFCW said Friday that the COVID safety letter went out yesterday to grocery retail CEOs such as Doug McMillon of Walmart, Andy Jassy of Amazon, Rodney McMullen of The Kroger Co., Vivek Sankaran of Albertsons, Craig Jelinek of Costco Wholesale, Brian Cornell of Target, Frans Muller of Ahold Delhaize, Todd Jones of Publix Super Markets, Jason Hart of Aldi U.S., Kathry McLay of Sam’s Club, Robert Eddy of BJ’s Wholesale Club, John Mackey of Whole Foods Market, Charles Butt (chairman) of H-E-B, Anthony Hucker of Southeastern Grocers, Colleen Wegman of Wegmans Food Markets and Randy Edeker of Hy-Vee, among others.

Marc Perrone-UFCW International President.jpg"We are urging each of your respective companies to implement stronger in-store measures immediately and maintain these protections throughout the holidays and winter." — Marc Perrone, UFCW International (Photo courtesy of UFCW

Other retail executives receiving letters included Todd Vasos of Dollar General, Karen Lynch of CVS Health, Rosalind Brewer of Walgreens, Heyward Donigan of Rite Aid, Corie Barry of Best Buy, Jeffrey Gennette of Macy’s, Erik Nordstrom of Nordstrom and Craig Menear of The Home Depot. 

In the letter, UFCW International President Marc Perrone called on the CEOs to promote mask wearing to reduce COVID transmissibility; provide all retail workers with free access to personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and hand sanitizer while on the job; re-up enforcement of social distancing; and support COVID vaccines and booster shots for employees.

UFCW also urged companies to provide on-site vaccine clinics, paid sick leave and inflation wage protection. The latter will help workers and their families amid surging food prices triggered by the economic fallout from the pandemic, the union said.

“America’s essential workers have had to contend with an ongoing deadly pandemic that has upended their daily lives as they have put their health and safety at risk every single day. For nearly two years, the threat of COVID-19 has persisted and evolved, even as many of America’ largest food and retail companies have relaxed their safety measures. With the new COVID-19 winter surge and emergence of the Omicron variant, it is critical for our nation’s largest retail and food employers — including Amazon, Walmart, Kroger and Whole Foods — to take immediate steps to protect essential workers and members of the public during this holiday season,” Perrone said in a statement.

The Kroger Co.Kroger COVID mask sign.jpg

UFCW's letter urges retailers to step up in-store enforcement of mask wearing, social distancing and use of hand sanitizer, among other measures.

“We are urging each of your respective companies to implement stronger in-store measures immediately and maintain these protections throughout the holidays and winter,” he noted. “Waiting for this pandemic to once more spiral out of control is not an option. These actions must be taken now to help reduce the risk of more essential worker infections and deaths.”

Citing internal reports, UFCW said it has recorded at least 213 retail and grocery worker deaths among its membership due to COVID-19, up 11% since June, and at least 50,600 cases of retail and grocery worker infections or exposure to the virus, up 17% since June. The letter said that, among UFCW members, 497 essential workers have died from COVID, 35,945 have been exposed to the virus and 68,891 have tested positive for the disease since the onset of the pandemic.

“Given the enormous risk of COVID-19 that essential workers still face, we implore each of you and your respective companies to do what is right and responsible and take immediate action to protect and support essential workers,” Perrone added about the retail CEO letters. “Working together, we can save lives and ensure that this holiday season is one that is not just prosperous for your companies, but is safe for essential workers, the customers they serve, and all Americans.”

Through mid-afternoon on Friday, the United States totaled more than 49.7 million COVID-19 cases and just over 795,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. UFCW reported that the Delta variant is now driving a spike in cases in 39 states. Although its severity isn’t yet known, the Omicron variant appears to spread rapidly and has been detected in 22 states since the first confirmed U.S. case was reported on Dec. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. As of Dec. 9, 60.5% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated against COVID, and 71.5% had received at least one dose, the CDC reported.

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