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In San Diego, frontline workers are continuing to show up for our communities every single day despite the very real dangers they still face with more than 35,000 COVID-19 cases countywide and more people getting sick every day. Workers in our neighborhood supermarkets, drug stores and health care facilities are among the most affected, and sometimes interact with thousands of customers or patients a day.
Without the courage of these essential workers who continue to put themselves in harm’s way, our families would not have the food or medicine we need during this crisis. Given the growing risks as COVID-19 cases continue to spread, it is time for the CEOs of every grocery, retail and health care facility in the county to step up and guarantee an extra $2 an hour hazard pay, for all of these frontline workers.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 represents more than 13,000 workers in grocery and drug stores, hospitals and clinics, and many other essential businesses across the county. The members of our union know firsthand that the danger did not go away for these workers. Yet many of the CEOs of our country’s largest grocery and retail chains ended hazard pay for these workers as if the pandemic was over and they were no longer at risk. And, unfortunately, workers in the health care industry received no hazard pay at all even though their risk is potentially even higher.
In reality, grocery, retail and health care workers across the country continue to get sick and die from COVID-19. There have already been at least 100 grocery worker deaths and thousands of grocery workers infected or exposed to the virus. Here in San Diego County, more than 200 of our union members have been infected and every grocery, retail, and health care worker continues to live with the daily fear of not only becoming sick, but also putting their family in danger by bringing this deadly virus home.
Members of UFCW Local 135 have experienced tremendous abuse while on the job – from the public flagrantly violating safety protocols by not wearing facial coverings or following social distancing guidelines to screaming expletives and threatening our members with bodily harm. This abuse must be stopped.
It was stunning to see companies like Kroger, Albertsons, Rite Aid and others raking in billions in profits during the pandemic and still cutting hazard pay. These companies are treating workers as expendable at a time when the danger of COVID-19 is just as real as on day one of the pandemic and we continue to count on these essential workers to help us out.
Even worse, many of our country’s largest companies refuse to release the numbers on how many of their workers have died, or become sick or exposed during this pandemic. It is outrageous that these companies are keeping all of us in the dark about the dangers these workers face and the hazards that still exist across San Diego County and the state. Our families deserve better.
As COVID-19 cases continue to spread across California and our state’s grocery workers continue to be essential to our communities, it is time for all of these companies to tell the truth about the real risks that exist in grocery stores and provide the strong hazard pay that these workers have earned for the danger they face every day. The only way we will get through this is together, and that starts with companies doing the right thing and putting workers and families first.
Todd Walters is president and Brent E. Beltrán is communications director of UFCW Local 135, the union that represents over 13,000 workers in grocery, retail, health care and other essential businesses serving San Diego County during the COVID-19 pandemic.