On Feb. 9, the UFCW hosted a national press call to underscore the need to expedite COVID-19 vaccine access for frontline food workers, and called on grocery companies and state leaders to work together to mandate hazard pay.
On the call, UFCW International President Marc Perrone announced that among our members, there have now been nearly 400 frontline worker deaths due to COVID-19 and 77,600 frontline workers infected or exposed to the virus. In the grocery industry, 137 of our members have died due to COVID-19 and over 30,100 grocery workers have been infected or exposed, and in the meatpacking industry, 132 of our members have died from the virus and 21,900 meatpacking workers have been infected or exposed. Perrone also emphasized that essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants lack access to the vaccine in over 35 states.
“COVID-19 is still a national emergency, and the threat of this pandemic for essential workers is worse now than ever before,” said Perrone. “Companies like Kroger, Walmart and others still refuse to publicly disclose the full impact of COVID-19, including how many frontline workers have been infected and died, even as the speed of virus infections has increased in the last two months.”
“Essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants are not being prioritized for vaccine access in many states and continue to face delays that further endanger their health,” Perrone added. “Simply put, the failures in early vaccine distribution under the past administration have left millions of Americans and essential workers defenseless. Governors must immediately work with CEOs in these industries to ensure the vaccine is free for all essential workers and that workers have paid time off to receive each dose.”
Members of the UFCW who work in grocery stores and meatpacking plants also spoke on the call and highlighted the need for vaccine access, as well as hazard pay.
“Because companies wouldn’t do the right thing, my union helped to push for hazard pay, and last month, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to mandate that grocery chains like Safeway provide an additional $4 per hour in hazard pay for grocery workers like me,” said Sue Wilmot, who is a member of UFCW Local 21 and works as a front-end grocery checker in a Safeway store in Seattle.
“I hope more cities will follow Seattle’s lead and pass their own grocery hazard pay mandate,” Wilmot added. “More importantly, I hope that our elected leaders and President Biden push for national hazard pay because every frontline worker has earned this. But hazard pay is not enough on its own. Essential workers like me also need access to the vaccine as soon as possible because COVID cases are increasing. The vaccine rollout has been too slow. This needs to change.”
“In the spring of 2020, a COVID outbreak tore through my plant and I was one of the workers who got sick,” said Antonio Jimenez, who is a member of UFCW Local 663 and works at the JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minn. “I was out of work for weeks to recover, worried the whole time about passing the infection on to my children, family and friends. Most people I know have at least a couple friends who got COVID. In my plant, more than 50 percent of the workers at my plant got COVID. It was devastating.”
“We need our leaders to prioritize meatpacking workers for vaccine access,” Jimenez added. “We need to make sure that frontline workers receive hazard pay for the health hazards they face. Workers like me risk our lives to feed America every day of this pandemic. Is it so much to ask that we be vaccinated and receive hazard pay?”