The head of the country's largest retail union sent a letter to more than 60 grocery and retail CEOs on Dec. 10.
As the Delta variant surges and cases linked to the newly-identified Omicron variant edge up across the U.S., the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) is calling on grocers to tighten up precautions and provide COVID-19-related benefits.
In a letter to chief executive officers at 63 chains including Walmart, Amazon, Whole Foods and Kroger, UFCW International President Mark Perrone urged retailers to reinstate in-store practices like social distancing and indoor mask wearing and provide free personal protective equipment to staffers. Beyond these protections, the 1.3 million-member union also wants employers to encourage vaccinations and boosters among their workers and offer paid sick leave in the event of any reactions to the shot.
The stakes, the union claims, are high. The organization cited statistics showing that 213 workers have died from COVID-19 and more than 50,600 have been infected or exposed to the virus. The number of cases has climbed 17% in the last six months alone.
The letter also addressed the twin crisis of inflation, declaring that retailers should boost wages to compensate for higher food costs and should continue to recognize the contributions of frontline workers.
“The reality is that the threat of COVID and the new variant is clearly contributing to historic inflation, fueling customer frustrations, and is making the job essential workers do in this pandemic even more difficult. Food and retail companies must use record profit margins to increase worker hourly pay and alleviate the impact of inflation,” wrote Perrone, adding, “While some may argue that such measures are not needed at this time, waiting for this pandemic to worsen again is not an option. These actions must be taken now to help reduce the risk of a worsening pandemic that will cost lives.”