Grocery store, meatpacking workers say food supply threatened if they’re not vaccinated soon

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — We all remember the pandemic started with panic buying and empty shelves last year. Now, meatpacking and grocery store workers say we could see empty shelves again if they’re not protected from coronavirus.

In a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp, UFCW Local 1996 said the employees need priority access to the vaccine.

“I would like the governor to know when the pandemic started a year ago, we sat back, we closed things down, but you know who didn’t close down? The grocery store,” said Debbie Whipple, a Fayette County Kroger employee.

Whipple is also a UFCW member.

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“We’re just so concerned because when we’re at work, we still have to interact with those customers, still serve them, still make sure we have a smile behind that mask that we’re wearing, and then we still have to go home to our families. That’s the most concerning thing,” Whipple said. “Governor, if you could, please move us up in the numbers. We are essential workers and we need to be counted and treated as so.”

In the letter, the union wrote, “These workers had no option to work from home during the pandemic and have been on the frontlines and exposed to a deadly virus for a year. There should be no more delay in vaccine access for them.”

UFCW Local 1996 also represents Georgia meatpacking workers.

“It’s very difficult to control the air we breathe when we’re standing shoulder to shoulder and we need to do whatever we can to protect these supply chains, and to make sure we can deliver goods and services that keeps this economy moving,” said Eric Taylor, the collective bargaining director for UFCW Local 1996. “If we don’t make sure we can go to work, you’re going to start seeing proteins having issues, and everyday essential groceries. It’s important we get these folks vaccinated so can keep this thing moving.”

On Friday, the Channel 2 Cobb County bureau chief Chris Jose reached out to the governor’s office.

Press secretary Mallory emailed a response:

“Governor Kemp, Dr. Toomey, and Georgia’s healthcare providers are working tirelessly to distribute the vaccine across the state as quickly as possible. The Governor’s top priority has been to take care of seniors who are the most vulnerable to the virus. Last week, he announced that the next phase of the vaccine will include teachers and educators and other at-risk Georgians. The Governor appreciates all of the hard work that those in the meat packing and grocery industries are doing to feed Georgians during these unprecedented times. As we get more supply from the federal government, he hopes to continue to expand the criteria to include more Georgians, including those in these industries.”