Stew Leonard’s, a seven-store grocery chain in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, has joined the growing but still fledgling national push to boost the status of grocery workers during the pandemic.
On Monday, the food retailer, along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and other officials, held a press conference in Hartford, Conn., to call for the classification of “grocery employees in Connecticut and throughout the nation as essential personnel,” the company said. “Grocery workers are interacting with hundreds of thousands of people each day in providing produce, dairy, food items, and paper goods to the general public as they restock essential items during quarantine and social distancing.”
Stew Leonard’s, Blumenthal and other Senate Democrats back a recent federal proposal for a “Heroes Fund” that, among other provisions, calls for a $25,000 pandemic premium pay increase for essential frontline workers, including food retail employees.
Public admiration for those workers has steadily increased as more consumers and celebrities have recognized the risks taken by food retail employees in recently weeks – especially as grocery stores and supermarkets, considered essential during the pandemic, stay open even amid social distancing requirements, increased pressure on the wearing of face masks and other changes. On April 11, in fact, those employees received a national thank you via the Tom Hanks monologue during the first pandemic episode of the NBC mainstay “Saturday Night Live.”
Judging by social media chatter, news reports and other sources since then, the public perception of treating the food retail work force as essential or similar to first responders – and to reward them accordingly – has only grown.
Indeed, the Kroger Co. and Albertsons Cos. recently joined the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is support of a temporary classification of those workers as first responders. Among the benefits of that would be enabling employees quicker access to personal protective gear and even faster COVID-19 testing than can be the case for other people. It would seem food retailer workers are enjoying new leverage now – which could help make the broader political case for such designations – given the massive demand for more and more workers to keep those stores operating during the pandemic.