In the absence of federal support for grocery stores during the coronavirus pandemic—one of the few businesses to remain open since the COVID-19 outbreak—Albertsons Cos. and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, have joined forces to seek a temporary designation of “extended first responders” or “emergency personnel” for supermarket associates to ensure that they are prioritized for testing and provided personal protection equipment.
Boise, Idaho.-based Albertsons, which employs more than 250,000 grocery workers, and the UFCW announced their joint effort to address workplace and public safety in an open letter to the nation’s policymakers and influencers in a full-page advertisement in the April 7 print edition of The New York Times. About 170,000 Albertsons workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements with local branches of the UFCW.
“Since the onset of this pandemic, associates in Albertsons Cos. stores, who are also proud members of UFCW union, have been working tirelessly to make sure that America’s families have the food and groceries they need,” said Albertsons Cos. President and CEO Vivek Sankaran and UFCW International President Marc Perrone in a joint statement. “These men and women are sacrificing every day to protect our nation’s food supply, and now is the time for our leaders in state and federal governments to do the same for them.
“The temporary designation of first responder or emergency personnel status would help ensure these incredible grocery workers access to priority testing, have access to personal protection equipment, like masks and gloves, as well other workplace protections necessary to keep themselves and the customers they serve safe and healthy.”
In addition to a call for the temporary designation of grocery workers as first responders, the notice addressed some of Albertsons’ in-store safety measures, such as Plexiglas protection at cash registers, in-store social distancing guidelines, enhanced sanitation procedures, sick leave benefits for associates diagnosed with the coronavirus or those who are required to self-quarantine, and an extra $2-per-hour appreciation pay to recognize the hard work of front-line associates.
Since the coronavirus outbreak began, independent grocers and chains alike have been forced to make up the protocols and rules as they go with little to no government guidance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have issued guidelines for cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic, but they are recommended rather than prescriptive.
While governors in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have issued executive orders to ensure grocery stores are safer workplaces and a handful of states such as Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York have taken measures to ensure grocery store workers have access to similar benefits and protections as first responders—such as emergency child care—there is no federal law protecting grocery store workers at a time when the entire industry is scrambling to protect its employees and customers.
“This joint action is an example of how all Americans must work together to protect everyone working on the front lines,” said the joint statement. “This includes not only our brave first responders and healthcare workers but also associates at our nation’s grocery stores who are providing communities with the essential food and supplies needed to weather this public health crisis.”