by Kamala Harris and Marc Perrone
Kamala Harris is a US Senator for California. Marc Perrone is the President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents 1.3 million workers in grocery stores, meatpacking plants, and other essential businesses on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our country is hurting. People are losing their jobs, parents are struggling to keep a roof over their kids’ heads and Americans are getting sick and dying in record numbers. The pain and suffering is often too much to bear. As this crisis continues, we must remember all of the frontline workers who are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way to help others make it through these challenging times.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of America’s grocery workers have continued to report to work and serve their communities, despite the ongoing hazards and danger of being exposed to the novel coronavirus.
The brave, dedicated workers who put themselves at risk when they enter their workplaces don’t make headlines, but each of us should value their quiet courage and sacrifice every time we visit our neighborhood grocery store. We cannot take their work or safety for granted — and their employers shouldn’t either. But too many grocery chain CEOs treat their workers as expendable. This is unacceptable.
Grocery workers are essential workers — without them, families across the country would not have access to the food they need during this pandemic. Given the increasing dangers as Covid-19 continues to spread, the time is now to reinstate hazard pay for all of America’s grocery workers.
The health threat that these workers face cannot be overstated. According to the Washington Post, by late May, more than 100 grocery workers had already died and at least an additional 5,500 grocery workers had tested positive for Covid-19. That number is likely higher, but a lack of transparency from grocery stores about how many workers have become sick or exposed during this pandemic has made the number difficult to estimate.
As we all know, this pandemic is far from over and the health threats that grocery workers face are just as real now as they were when this crisis began. As one grocery deli manager put it, employees are working in conditions they have “never seen before.” Not only are workers interacting with customers, they are wearing masks and social distancing, all while constantly wiping down cash registers, food conveyor belts and shopping carts. These workers are also continuously working to restock items that households desperately need like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and other essentials.