Should retailers do more to protect frontline workers?
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is calling on the largest retailers in the U.S. to step up and protect frontline workers as the novel coronavirus pandemic enters a new and potentially more challenging phase with cases of the Omicron variant popping up across the country.
Marc Perrone, president of UFCW International, wrote a letter to 63 chief executives at the largest retail and grocery businesses operating in the U.S., asserting that the expected surge in cases this winter makes it imperative for companies to act decisively to avoid adding to the growing totals of workers who have gotten COVID-19 and, in some cases, died.
The UFCW says that the number of cases COVID-19 among retail workers has risen 17 percent since June 2021 to 50,600. A total of 213 workers have lost their lives to the virus during that time, an 11 percent increase.
Mr. Perrone emphasized in his letter that time is of the essence. “Waiting for this pandemic to once more spiral out of control is not an option,” he wrote. “These actions must be taken now to help reduce the risk of more essential worker infections and deaths.”
The UFC has called on retailers to take five specific actions including:
- Promoting mask wearing to cut down on transmission of the virus;
- Providing free personal protective equipment to all workers, including masks and hand sanitizer;
- Reestablishing social distancing measures that were relaxed as vaccinations were made available to Americans;
- Supporting vaccinations and booster shots for workers that go beyond the government mandate to include steps such as offering paid sick leave and setting up onsite vaccine administration centers;
- Implementing wage protection to keep workers’ pay in balance with rising food prices and other inflationary pressures.
Mr. Perrone acknowledged that “some may argue” that the measures proposed by the UFCW “are not needed at this time.” Waiting too long to act, however, would certainly lead to lost lives.
- America’s Largest Retail Union Calls on CEOs for Action on Omicron and Winter COVID Surge to Protect Essential Workers and Customers – United Food and Commercial Workers
- Letter to Retail CEOs on Omicron COVID Safety, Dec. 2021 – UFCW
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think all five actions recommended by the UFCW to protect workers are warranted at this time? How would you advise retailers to go about implementing protocols such as social distancing measures that might prove unpopular with some customers?