“America’s essential workers are facing a holiday season of unparalleled danger as COVID-19 cases explode across the country,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone in a virtual national press conference earlier today. “With more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases in the past week, and deaths spiking to unprecedented levels, we are entering what could be the deadliest phase of this pandemic for millions of America’s essential front-line workers.”
Perrone went on to outline three UFCW initiatives aimed at urging retailers and elected leaders to better protect and compensate essential grocery workers. First, the union’s Holiday Shop Smart Campaign is launching a customer safety education effort, targeting regions with major COVID-19 spikes like Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas and Milwaukee, said Perrone. The campaign asks customers to wear a mask, follow social distancing and safely discard masks every time they shop.
Secondly, the UFCW plans to send a letter to top retail and grocery CEOs demanding that all of the major food retail companies publicly support new health, safety and wage standards throughout this holiday season, for union and nonunion workers, and as long as the current spike in cases persists. The letter will underscore priorities such as free COVID testing and personal protective equipment for front-line workers; mask enforcement for all customers at all stores; paid sick leave for all front-line workers who are sick or exposed to the virus; and the immediate reinstatement of hazard pay for all front-line workers.
Perrone also called for a freeze on all stock buybacks by companies until the pandemic is under control, pointing to companies such as Kroger with record earnings and Costco, which recently announced a $4.4 billion special cash dividend on its stock.
“As this threat of this pandemic grows, so will the threat to our communities and our food supply. Given the spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths we are all witnessing, it is time for our elected leaders and this nation’s food and retail CEOs to take immediate action,” he said.
And finally, the UFCW is urging every state governor to immediately adopt stronger and uniform COVID-19 safety standards at all food and retail stores across the entire country. “Simply put, front-line workers are terrified because their employers and our elected leaders are not doing enough to protect them and stop the spread of this virus,” Perrone asserted.
During the press call, the UFCW also cited a new Brookings Institution report that reveals huge profits for grocery chains that have failed to reinstate hazard pay. While most of the top retailers ended hazard pay in June, more than 6 million front-line retail workers are potentially facing the deadliest phase of the pandemic as we move into the holiday season.
“As holiday shopping begins this Thanksgiving, we are already seeing a huge surge of customer traffic. Unless we take immediate actions beginning this holiday week, many more essential workers will become sick and more, tragically, will die,” said Perrone.
New UFCW numbers show that among the union’s members, there have been at least 350 front-line worker deaths, including 109 grocery worker deaths from COVID-19. In addition, the union reported there have been at least 48,000 front-line workers infected or exposed, including over 17,400 grocery workers infected or exposed to the virus.