FAYETTE COUNTY, Ga. — Kroger and America’s largest food union are calling for state and federal lawmakers to designate grocery story workers as first responders.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union says 30 UFCW members have died from COVID-19, and nearly 3,000 UFCW food and grocery workers have been directly impacted by the virus.
“Given the significant daily risk these workers face, we are calling on all of our federal and state leaders to take immediate action. Specifically, we are requesting our nation’s leaders to assign a temporary designation of first responder or emergency personnel status for all grocery workers,” Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen and UFCW International president Marc Perrone said in a joint statement. “Make no mistake, this designation is absolutely critical as it will ensure these frontline workers have priority access to personal protection equipment like masks and gloves.
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Kroger is using infrared technology to measure capacity limits. Last week, it implemented additional social distancing guidelines including a limit of one customer per 120 square feet. Stores have added plexiglass shields at the register, floor markers are meant to keep customers six feet apart, and employees are given masks and gloves.
“This urgent call for temporary first responder or emergency personnel status is not just about protecting grocery store workers; it is also about protecting the customers they serve and our nation’s food supply in general,” Perrone and McMullen said.
Perrone told Channel 2’s Chris Jose a first responder designation will also give workers priority access to coronavirus tests.
“If we don’t have some way of testing and tracking our own workers, we’re going to transmit the disease, the virus to customers, and we don’t want to do that either,” said Perrone. “We want quick testing. We want rapid test results.
UFCW also launched a capital campaign called #ShopSmart which targets grocery store shoppers. It is in response to the growing number of food and grocery workers who are becoming exposed to the coronavirus and the direct threat the growing outbreak poses to the nation’s food supply.
The union is urging customers to wear masks and gloves while they’re shopping, follow CDC guidelines and limit contact.
“A lot of people are afraid to come to work but we know we’re essential and we’re here for the customers,” said Debbie Whipple.
Whipple works at a Fayetteville Kroger. She’s been with the company for 40 years.
“We want to do the right thing. We just want them (customers) to come in with patience,” said Whipple.
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