In Minnesota, front-line workers continue to show up for our communities every day despite the real dangers they still face with nearly 79,000 COVID-19 cases statewide and more people getting sick every day. Grocery workers in our neighborhood supermarkets are among those most vulnerable, sometimes interacting with thousands of customers a day.
Without the courage of these essential grocery workers who continue to put themselves in harm’s way, our families would not have the food 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 chain in Minnesota to step up and guarantee hazard pay for these front-line workers.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 represents more than 13,200 Minnesota workers in grocery stores and many other essential businesses. Our members know firsthand that the danger hasn’t gone away for these workers. Yet many of the CEOs of our country’s largest grocery chains ended hazard pay for these workers as if the pandemic was over and hazard was gone.
In reality, grocery workers 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 Minnesota, many of our members have been infected and grocery workers statewide continue to live with the daily fear of not only becoming sick but also endangering their family if they bring this deadly virus home.
Here in Minnesota, we can do better. And we are starting to see that. Kowalski’s Markets has stepped up to guarantee hazard pay for its workers through Oct. 2. Seward Community Co-op, Linden Hills Co-op and Eastside Food Co-op continue to provide hazard pay as well. And, Seward Community Co-op workers approved a union contract guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage two years before Minneapolis’s historic $15 minimum wage law takes full effect. Higher wages help everyone, especially those on the front lines of a pandemic. Across the Twin Cities metro area and around the state, grocery workers are making their voices heard.
UFCW Local 663 member David Peterson works at Cub Foods in Brooklyn Park and emphasized that grocery workers are still essential, working long hours and busier than ever.
Mareth Sullivan, a UFCW Local 663 member who works at Jerry’s Cub Foods on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, added that grocery workers are “still very much at risk” and continue to face “high-volume exposure” with hundreds of customers each day.
“I work with the public and don’t want to get family members sick,” added Tracey Oxborough, a union member at Super One in Baxter, Minn.
These are just some of the many stories we hear from Minnesota grocery workers every day.
Across the country, it was stunning to see the CEOs of grocery chains like Kroger raking in billions in profits during the pandemic and still cutting hazard pay for these brave front-line workers. These companies are treating these grocery 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 be able to put food on the table for our families.
Even worse, our country’s largest grocery chains refuse to release the numbers on how many of their workers have died, have become sick or have been exposed during this pandemic. It is outrageous that these CEOs are keeping us in the dark about the dangers workers face and the hazards that continue in grocery stores across Minnesota. Our families deserve better.
As COVID-19 cases continue to spread across Minnesota and our grocery workers continue to be essential to our communities, it is time for these CEOs to recognize the reality about the ongoing risks and provide the strong hazard pay 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 Minnesota workers and families first.
Matthew Utecht is the president of UFCW Local 663, the union for 13,200 workers in grocery stores and other essential businesses serving Minnesota and Iowa during the COVID-19 pandemic.