The COVID-19 coronavirus crisis has put a spotlight on the essential work UFCW members provide in communities across the country. Members of our union family are risking their health and safety to ensure that our nation’s food supply is safe, grocery store shelves are stocked, and people have access to medication and the health services they need. The hard-working men and women of the UFCW deserve better wages, benefits and safety standards to protect them as they serve the public.
We need policies that put hard-working people and families first. These are the issues that impact the daily lives and livelihood of UFCW members:
Hazard Pay for Essential Food Workers
The men and women working hard in grocery stores, pharmacies, food processing plants, health care facilities and more have been providing our communities with essential services throughout the pandemic. During this time of crisis, they have risked their health and their family’s health to help us put food on our tables. They deserve wage increases that reflect the risks they face and the importance of their service to the public.
Multi-billion dollar companies like Kroger, Amazon, and Walmart have ended their temporary pay increases for workers while continuing to rake in record sales and profits. The risk of serious and sometimes fatal COVID-19 coronavirus infections these workers face has not ended. If anything, the risk essential workers face has increased as COVID-19 outbreaks continue across the country.
Leaving it up to companies to do the right thing has not worked. Too many of the people working hardest to serve our communities have been left behind. They have earned and deserve better.
Sick Days and Paid Leave for ALL Workers
The spread of COVID-19 has highlighted the health and economic consequences faced by working people when they lack access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. Millions of workers face the devastating decision between risking their own health or risking the loss of a paycheck or job.
All working people who are sick, affected by quarantine orders, or responsible for caring for children whose schools have been closed, should have job protections and paid leave. Making it possible for workers to stay at home and care for our families without penalties is as important as protecting workers on the job.
Going forward, we need to raise the standards for American jobs so that all working people are paid fairly for their efforts and workplaces reflect the needs of today’s families, which include the ability to care for children and family members.
Health and Safety Standards to Protect Essential Workers
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect all workers at potential risk of occupational exposure to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 OSHA health and safety standard needs to ensure that essential workers have limited viral exposure and infected workers who show no symptoms have limited exposure to coworkers and customers. Employers must be required to assess workplace-specific risks, implement controls to reduce risks, develop protocols and training, and develop pandemic plans, with workers engaged in each process.
The ETS should cover workers in retail stores, grocery, health care, meat and poultry slaughter and processing, and other essential industries. OSHA regulations for retail workers should include social distancing provisions and a limit on the number of customers in a worksite; proper personal protective equipment use training, protocols, and controls; and having a protocol for dealing with customers and workers who show COVID-19 symptoms.
Testing and Presumption of Workplace Illness
Grocery store, pharmacy, and food processing workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic. Workers up and down the food chain have been required to work in order to ensure our homes have adequate food, supplies, and prescription drugs. In doing so, many workers have already died from COVID-19 and more will become exposed as this virus continues to spread. We need to ensure that food workers are eligible for all the benefits that other essential, frontline workers should be getting, including free childcare while working, priority testing and treatment, and personal protective equipment.
COVID-19 should be deemed a workplace illness for essential workers. A workplace presumption of illness would allow essential workers who have contracted the virus through the performance of their duties to make a workers’ compensation claim without facing a potentially lengthy process that threatens their health and financial security.
Everyone who works hard deserves a steady, reliable income once they leave the workforce. We need a strong pension system, expanded Social Security benefits, and fair wages so working families can build up retirement savings over the course of their careers.
The shift from traditional defined benefit pensions to individual savings has left many workers with insufficient or no retirement savings at all. The economic crisis caused by the current pandemic has only increased the importance of stabilizing the multi-employer pension system and protecting workers from bankruptcy. Americans who lose their jobs when businesses declare bankruptcy should receive the pay and benefits they were promised and earned as part of their compensation. They should never have to take a back seat to CEO payouts or Wall Street profits.
All hard-working people have earned and deserve a secure retirement.
Line Speeds and Safety in Meatpacking Plants
The men and women in America’s food processing plants are working tirelessly during this pandemic to keep food in our stores and on our tables despite the enormous risk to their health and the health of their families. COVID-19 outbreaks in meatpacking plants have led to temporary plant shutdowns and food supply chain disruptions. Protecting these workers is essential to keeping our communities and the food supply safe.
We need mandatory and enforceable regulations to protect workers from contracting and spreading COVID-19 including:
- Slowing down the line speed and physical distancing in processing and slaughter businesses. Six-foot social and physical distancing must be practiced and enforced to the greatest extent possible, without eliminating any jobs, even it if means slowing production.
- Providing no cost personal protective equipment to meat and poultry slaughter and processing workers. Access to personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, is critical to reducing workers’ exposure
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) serves as the first line of defense against hunger. The program is critical to keeping workers along the food supply chain working and able to support their families during this pandemic. Access to SNAP should be expanded with safeguards that support grocery store employees and ensure that authorized stores continue to serve SNAP customers without disruption.
Specifically, the UFCW supports increasing SNAP maximum benefits by 15 percent; increasing the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30; and suspending all SNAP administrative rules that would terminate or cut benefits.
We believe that no one who works hard should go hungry or have to choose between eating and paying their bills. SNAP provides vital support to working families in hard- working communities.