Five members of the D.C. Council have petitioned for Mayor Muriel Bowser to declare grocery, pharmacy and food processing workers as “first responders” so that they can receive special benefits in the face of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
The move aims at granting people who have been helping maintain daily business during the COVID-19 crisis at the expense of risking their health the right to free testing and treatment, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE).
The council members behind the petition, which is supported by UFCW Local 400, are Elissa Silverman (At-Large), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Robert White (At-Large), Vincent Gray (Ward 7) and Trayon White (Ward 8).
UFCW Local 400 is a union that represents Giant and Safeway grocery employees in the D.C. area.
“The District’s grocery, retail, pharmacy, and food processing workers are working tirelessly during this outbreak to ensure families get the food and supplies they need,” said Mark Federici, the union’s president. “We need these workers to stay healthy more than ever before and protecting them is essential to our communities and the food supply.”
“Our members working on the frontlines of this crisis are exposed to hundreds of customers per day and thousands per week, not to mention their coworkers, families and neighbors,” Federici added.
If the decision is taken, the District of Columbia would be joining Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont. The three states have designated grocery workers as “first responders,” like health care workers and other essential staff.
Maryland provides grocery workers with free childcare, but does not give them access to free testing, treatment, and protective equipment.
UFCW Local 400 has also other demands to protect workers and customers, including:
- Mandating 14 paid sick days for employees
- Mandating paid leave of 12 weeks for those in high risk categories such as those over 60 and those with weak immune systems
- Access to free childcare
- Mandatory wiping down of grocery carts, self-scan screens, and credit card touch screens after each use
- Limiting the number of customers in a store
- Requiring a 6-foot distance be kept from cashiers and other customers in line at check stands
- Requiring shorter store hours to allow for additional cleaning, stocking, and rest time
- Mandating that employees be allowed to wear masks and gloves even if they are not sick
- Requiring employers to provide adequate amounts of masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer
- Mandating hazard pay with a minimum of at least $2 about the current minimum wage and double time for any overtime hours worked