Union Calls for Food Worker COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization

Feb 12, 2021  | 3 min  | Ep4626

Last year, as the COVID-19 virus spread, front-line workers stayed at their posts in hospitals, police departments and food production lines.

Some of those who’ve remained have received vaccinations -- but not all.

Josh Buettner reports on the calls for inclusion along food production lines.

Marc Perrone/President – United Food and Commercial Workers Union International: “It’s every retail food and grocery worker in this country…every processing and food packing worker…”

This week, the nation’s largest union representing food workers called on corporations JBS, Albertson’s and Kroger, among others, to re-institute last year’s hazard pay and join efforts pushing federal, state and local governments toward prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees on the front-line of the pandemic. 

The president of United Food and Commercial Workers International says their 1.3 million members are crucial to the nation’s food supply – and that up to 80,000 of their ranks have been infected with the coronavirus – with at least 400 dead since the outbreak began.

Marc Perrone/President – United Food and Commercial Workers Union International: “We’re not saying that these workers need to be first, but they shouldn’t be last, either.”

UFCW praised food worker mandates on both the West Coast and across New England that add $4 per hour to existing pay rates. The move prompted national chains like Trader Joe’s to add an additional $2 to the hourly wages of its nearly 10,000 employees.

Though the union alleges its largest employer - Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger - has closed stores to avoid pandemic hazard pay, the company recently revealed a massive campaign to incentivize, but not require, workforce vaccinations with $100 one-time payments and other financial rewards.

Eric Nelson/Kroger Employee - Cincinnati, OH: “They give employees a thousand dollar fuel points, but some people catch the bus.  So what are they going to do with that thousand-dollar fuel points? Absolutely nothing.”

Dissatisfied with one-size fits all solutions, union officials call corporate safety efforts little more than consumer public relations - accusing chains like Kroger of creating a funnel for the grocery giant’s employee aid back into supermarket coffers.

Marc Perrone/President – United Food and Commercial Workers Union International: “That did not go into the pockets of these workers.  It just didn’t.  I’m sorry.  But let me say this.  After all that, in 2019, they did a billion dollars in profit.  In 2020, they did two.”

As of Friday afternoon, a response to UFCW’s comments requested from JBS, Albertson’s, Kroger and the office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine were unanswered. 

For Market to Market, I’m Josh Buettner.



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