As COVID-19 continues to ravage our region, frontline workers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland continue to put themselves in harm’s way for our communities.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 152 represents more than 13,500 workers in many essential businesses in this region, including supermarkets, health-care facilities, and manufacturing plants. Many of them are required to interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of customers, patients, or coworkers every day.
Sadly, all of them continue to live with the daily fear of not only contracting the virus but also bringing it home to their families.
Without these essential employees, our communities would not have the food, medicines, or medical care they need during this ongoing crisis.
Given the risks, as COVID-19 cases continue to spread, it is time for the CEOs of every grocery, health care, and manufacturing facility to step up and guarantee hazard pay for all of these courageous workers.
The members of our union know firsthand that the dangers have not disappeared, yet many of our largest grocery chains ended hazard pay for these workers as if the pandemic was suddenly over and their employees were no longer at risk. Some workers, especially those in health care whose risk is potentially even greater, never received hazard pay at all.
It was stunning to see grocery chains like Wakefern ShopRite, Acme Markets, and others raking in billions in profit during the pandemic and still choosing to cut hazard pay for their brave frontline workers.
In reality, these employees continue to get sick and die from COVID-19. There have already been at least 100 deaths of grocery workers, and thousands more have been exposed. In the Philadelphia region, more than 400 employees have been infected while doing their jobs.
These companies are treating their own employees as expendable at a time when the danger of COVID-19 is just as real as it was on day one of the pandemic. Our communities count on these essential workers, yet they have nothing to show for it.
On top of it all, our UFCW Local 152 members have worked harder than ever during this crisis. They have been berated by customers for lacking product, endured expletives simply because they enforced social distancing rules, and more than once suffered threats of bodily harm over simple mask-wearing.
Many of our region’s largest companies refuse to release the numbers on how many of their own workers have died, become sick, or were exposed during this pandemic. It is outrageous that these CEOs are keeping all of us in the dark about the dangers these workers face.
Our families deserve better.
As COVID-19 cases continue to spread, it is time for corporate CEOs to provide the strong hazard pay their workers have earned for risking their health and safety.
The only way we will get through this is together, and that starts with companies doing the right thing and putting workers and their families first.
Brian String is the president of UFCW Local 152, the union for 13,500 workers in grocery stores and other essential businesses serving New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.