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04/08/2020

U.S. Senator: Grocers' COVID-19 Measures Not Enough

Gina Acosta
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Senator: Grocers' COVID-19 Measures Not Enough
On Tuesday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asking them to “issue and promote clear guidance for workers in the retail food industry"

A Massachusetts U.S. senator is pushing the federal government to address coronavirus-related safety concerns for workers in the food retail industry.

On Tuesday, April 7, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asking them to “issue and promote clear guidance for workers in the retail food industry and their customers.”

The senator’s letter to the CDC and FDA noted, “As we enter an extended period of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, best practices governing interactions in grocery stores and during food delivery are more important than ever.”

He added that the federal agencies have provided some guidance, but that it doesn't go far enough.

“The guidance ultimately leaves decisions on the feasibility of worker protections to retail food establishments themselves,” Markey wrote. “The limited existing guidance is failing our essential workers and consumers.”

At least four grocery workers have died of COVID-19, according to The Washington Post and other media outlets.

Several states have already taken measures to ensure that grocery store workers have access to protections as first responders. For instance, supermarket associates have access to emergency child care in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York, and the governors of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have issued executive orders to ensure that grocery stores are safer workplaces.

This week, Albertsons Cos. and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), the largest food and retail union in the United States, launched a joint national effort to seek a temporary designation of “extended first responders” or “emergency personnel” for supermarket employees to ensure that they’re prioritized for testing and given personal protection equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. In support of this undertaking, the entities placed a full-page advertisement in the April 7 print edition of The New York Times.

On April 8, the Washington, D.C.-based UFCW sent a letter requesting that the CDC immediately issue mandatory guidance for grocery stores, pharmacies and food-processing facilities to ensure that front-line workers and the country’s food supply and prescription drugs remain safe. 

Markey's letter asked federal agencies to answer the following questions by April 17:

  • Please describe any measures the CDC and FDA have taken to address coronavirus-related safety concerns for workers in the retail food industry. How do the CDC and FDA plan to improve and promote that guidance?
  • Please identify any guidance that the CDC or FDA has issued for consumers on how to protect themselves from the coronavirus while shopping for food or receiving food deliveries. Does the CDC or FDA plan to issue any expanded or additional guidance in these areas? If so, when? If not, why not? Please describe all efforts to promote this guidance to the public.
  • The FDA has noted that social distancing may not be possible in certain food industry facilities. What steps are the CDC or FDA taking to safeguard workers who cannot abide by the social distancing guidance?
  • What steps are the CDC or FDA taking to ensure that food retailers and delivery services are complying with guidance on protecting worker and consumer safety

On Wednesday, April 8, five Democratic senators sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a letter about the firing of former Amazon worker Christian Smalls. Amazon said that it fired Smalls for violating a paid quarantine to join a protest focused on coronavirus-related safety concerns at the Staten Island, N.Y., facility.

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