In an op-ed today for CNN, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International President Marc Perrone and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called on large grocery retailers to reinstate hazard pay for frontline workers as cases of COVID-19 mount nationwide.
In a piece titled "Why grocery store workers deserve hazard pay", Harris and Perrone opined that despite the ongoing pandemic, grocery chains ending hazard pay are being short-sighted.
"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,” Harris and Perrone wrote. “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.”
They go on to add that grocery workers are encountering high infection rates and deaths, and that the chains had likely underreported the actual numbers:
"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.'
Since the coronavirus pandemic was declared a national emergency in mid-March, many grocery retailers have implemented emergency pay for frontline workers in stores, distribution centers and/or other facilities. Most programs entailed a temporary $2-per-hour or percentage wage increase for hourly workers and/or one-time bonuses. Some companies extended the hourly wage increases and bonuses more than once, including Kroger, Albertsons, Amazon/Whole Foods, Walmart and other chains. Retailers like Kroger, too, have invested millions of dollars in COVID-19 protection, health benefits and emergency sick-leave benefits for workers.
A number of chains, however, have ended the extra pay as the time periods for the programs have expired and states and municipalities nationwide have reopened businesses and public spaces shut during the pandemic.
However, they noted in the article, large food retailers such as Kroger, Albertsons, Whole Foods Market (owned by Amazon) and others have phased out temporary pay raises or bonuses — dubbed “hero pay” or “appreciation pay” — even as more areas of the country are grappling with a higher incidence of the virus.
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