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Letter to Kroger from Region 8 UFCW Locals Fighting for the continuation of Hero Pay

In a letter to the Vice President of Labor and Associate Relations at Kroger,  President McLaughlin joined other Region 8 local union presidents in calling on Kroger to extend the Hero Pay and recognize the commitment of our Essential Workers.

Read the text below or download as a PDF.

 

May 7, 2020

Mr. Jon McPherson
1014 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Dear Jon:

​As a follow up to our conversation on Tuesday, May 5, regarding the pivoting from Hero Pay to testing for workers and the safety issues inside the stores, we, the Presidents of the UFCW Local Unions in Region 8, would like to express our disappointment in not only the news of such a “pivot” but in signaling the end of Hero Pay.

​We continue to ask that you reconsider extending this pay to your grocery workers who have proven that they are essential to the very survival of communities across the country. We are also concerned by the notion that Hero Pay would “pivot” to testing; we believe that both Hero Pay and testing should be provided to our members, your associates.

​Statements by Kroger about “starting the path to recovery” and “beginning to see a return to normal” do not reflect the reality of the increasing number of cases and deaths across the country. No one knows how long this will last and no one knows what normal will look like when the threat of COVID-19 is over.

​There is no path to recovery from a virus that has no cure. The members of the UFCW who work for you are stocking shelves, bagging groceries, cleaning, and running cash registers while wearing masks and gloves to try to save their lives and the lives of their families.

​The need for social distancing, one shopper per household, having every other check lane open, and customer limits are inconsistently enforced. Anxiety continues to grow as people in communities across the country miss paychecks, and shortages of cleaning supplies, sanitizer, toilet paper, and now meat occur.

​As the states across the nation begin to ease restrictions, more not less people will be going into the stores, increasing our members’ exposure to the public and their chances of catching COVID- 19. Steve Yancey described this as “a return to normal” in an email; however, the situation in the stores is anything but normal.

​This is no time for the Company to turn its back on the very people who’ve gotten Kroger through this pandemic thus far with no end in sight. We ask that you continue the Hero Pay for the foreseeable future.

​We look forward to hearing back from you over our concerns over the Hero Pay, testing for all workers, and safety concerns within the stores that we discussed on the May 5th call. Please feel free to contact Region 8 Director, Bryan Wynn (bwynn@ufcw.org) to re-convene a call for all of us to continue to discuss these important issues.

Store workers become enforcers of social distancing rules

Sandy Jensen’s customer-service job at a Sam’s Club in Fullerton, California, normally involves checking member ID cards at the door and answering questions. But the coronavirus has turned her into a kind of store sheriff.

Now she must confront shoppers who aren’t wearing masks and enforce social distancing measures such as limits on the number of people allowed inside. The efforts sometimes provoke testy customers.

“They are behaving worse now,” Jensen said. “Everybody is on edge. I have hostile members in my face.”

Her frustration is shared by store workers across the country, who are suddenly being asked to enforce the rules that govern shopping during the pandemic, a tension-filled role for which most of them have received little or no training. The burden is sure to become greater as more businesses in nearly a dozen states start to reopen.

Even if a security guard is posted at the store, employees complain they are often left to stand up to defiant shoppers.

“I think that people are pushing back because their freedoms are being controlled,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million members including grocery workers. “Members don’t feel comfortable trying to corral the customer. Management will take the customer side.”

Store tensions recently resulted in violence in at least two states. A Michigan security officer was fatally shot last week after telling a customer to wear a mask at a Family Dollar store. Two McDonald’s employees in Oklahoma City were shot Wednesday by a customer who was angry that the restaurant’s dining area was closed, police said.

Also in Oklahoma, one city abandoned its mask rule after store clerks were threatened. And at a southern California grocery store called Vons, a man showed up in what looked like a Ku Klux Klan hood. He ignored requests from workers to remove it until he got to the register, according to the supermarket.

Masks are required in some states. Some major retailers including Costco Wholesale Club have made masks mandatory regardless of government policies. But even at stores that post signs about mask recommendations, workers often have to approach unmasked visitors.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and largest private employer, said it works with law enforcement in communities where face coverings are required.

Jeff Reid, who works at the meat counter at a Giant store in Silver Spring, Maryland, which mandates masks, said the greeter at his store is the one confronting shoppers, not the security guard posted outside.

“We are going on the front lines on a daily basis. If it’s against the law without your mask, why are you having cashiers and teenagers trying to enforce this when this is the law?” asked Zeid, who often has to reprimand customers to keep 6 feet apart.

The pandemic duties are the latest example of workers being asked to police retail space. Last year, retailers including CVS, Walgreens and Walmart asked customers to refrain from openly carrying guns in stores even where state law allows it.

Stores did not outright prohibit guns because they did not want workers to have to enforce a ban. But how workers should respond to weapon-carrying customers has remained fuzzy. Many retailers left it up to the discretion of store managers and provided some guidance and training to workers.

Jason Brewer, a spokesman at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said it’s not a retail employee’s role to enforce a local law or an executive order on face coverings or any other protocol. He said law enforcement should get involved and that shoppers can do their part.

“The industry is acutely focused on safety protocols as they reopen. But consumers need to keep this top of mind,” Brewer said.

At a Costco in Midlothian, Virginia, Wendy Alonzo said markings on the floor indicating proper social distancing were good reminders. She said she gets frustrated when other customers seem oblivious that they are blocking an aisle, forcing her to squeeze by.

“And then they kind of side-eye like you are too close, but it’s like you’re blocking the way, and I’m not going to wait here all day for you to make your decision whether you want eggs or milk or cheese,” Alonzo said Wednesday.

Target spokesman Joshua Thomas said the chain has not experienced any major issues with shoppers not complying with social-distance rules. He attributes part of that to Target following local ordinances and not making nationwide mandates. If customers fail to adhere to protocols, stores may add more signs or play more frequent reminders on the public address system. Target can also reduce the number of customers let into the store.

“The safety of the team members is our top priority,” Thomas said.

Many other businesses are trying to defuse tensions between workers and customers.

Fresh Market, a Greensboro, North Carolina-based gourmet food chain with more than 150 stores, was one of the first grocers to request that shoppers wear masks. But a spokeswoman said it has not denied entrance to customers without face coverings.

“We do not want to place our team members in a confrontational situation that could result in unintended consequences during an already trying time for many,” company spokeswoman Meghan Flynn said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Workers can pose problems too.

Scott Nash, CEO of MOM’s Organic Market, which operates 19 stores in the Mid-Atlantic region, said he’s had to deal with some employees feeling overly empowered and hostile toward customers.

He acknowledges that training for his 1,500 employees has been “on the fly” and that he has not had time to roll out a “training module.” But he tells workers to “use their common sense.”

“Don’t be too lax and don’t be controlling or publicly shaming,” Nash said.

Source: Fox 11 News (NY)

Customer Masks Required at Denver Grocery Stores Starting Today

The city’s public-health order that created the mask mandate requires grocery stores to “take reasonable measures, such as posting signs, to remind their customers and the public of the requirement that they wear a Face Covering while inside of or waiting in line to enter the business.”

Additionally, businesses “performing Critical Government Functions,” such as grocery stores, “must take all reasonable steps to prohibit any member of the public who is not wearing a Face Covering from entering and, if those efforts are unsuccessful, must not serve that person and must seek to remove that person,” according to the Denver order.

How the store will do that remains undetermined, and that concerns Chris Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council.

“It’s not so much the order of a mask; it’s asking the retailers to enforce it,” says Howes. “It’s already a stressful environment.”

Howes points to the recent tragedy in Flint, Michigan, where a security guard was shot and killed outside a Dollar Tree store following an argument over a customer’s refusal to wear a face mask, according to law enforcement.

While nothing that drastic has occurred in Colorado, Cordova says that members of her union, which represents approximately 17,000 grocery-store workers across the state, have already had to deal with “customers becoming very violent or abusive…especially when the toilet paper ran out and supplies were short.”

“We are asking businesses to ensure that folks come into their stores as customers are complying with the order, but we also understand that we don’t want them getting into confrontations in their place of business,” Kristin Bronson, the Denver City Attorney, said at the May 5 press conference.

To prevent confrontations, Cordova suggests, “I think that the companies should get the National Guard or additional armed security, like off-duty police officers, to help monitor these customers — not only for the masks, but also for the social distancing.”

The city has no plans to add security, though; officials say the aim is to educate people so that they comply, rather than take a more heavy-handed approach with customers.

Howes believes that stores in his organization will be “making good faith efforts to comply the best they can by informing customers of the city’s order, without risking altercations.” If things turn physical, then employees will call the police.

But Denver hopes it doesn’t get to that level. “People will need to take the face covering order seriously, as they did with the stay-at-home order,” says Heather Burke, a city spokesperson. “City agencies will be involved with enforcement, with the goal of 100 percent compliance and keeping everyone safe.”

Source: Westword

In-Store Instacart Shoppers in Chicago Get OK for Union Vote

A group of Instacart in-store shoppers in Chicago will vote by mail on whether to unionize after a federal labor board official rejected the company’s argument that the election would distract “essential” workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The shoppers fill orders for Instacart customers at a Jewel-Osco store and are classified as Instacart employees. The election comes some three months after a group of Instacart shoppers assigned to another grocery store in Illinois voted to unionize.

Instacart is considering appealing the Thursday decision from National Labor Relations Board official Peter Sung Ohr to the three Trump-appointed sitting members of the NLRB. The company argued that the vote should be delayed until after the health care crisis subsides or other wise held in person.

The company believes in-person elections “can be reasonably conducted on-site for these in-store shoppers to exercise their rights with safeguards put in place,” and will “be exploring the right to appeal ” spokeswoman Natalia Montalvo said in an email.

An appeal would give the NLRB the chance to resolve an ongoing question for businesses still open during the pandemic as essential and the unions trying to organize their workers—whether ballots should be cast in person, by mail, or at all. The agency’s regional officials have largely opted for mail ballot elections in recent weeks.

“Given the nationwide state of emergency surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Instacart requested that the election be reasonably rescheduled so that these in-store shoppers can remain focused on ensuring that families’ critical grocery orders continue to be fulfilled,” Montalvo said.

“We support these employees’ rights to explore unionization, as well as their freedom to reject any unionization effort,” Montalvo said. “We greatly appreciate their efforts, which is why we’ve established new sick pay policies, new COVID-19 bonuses, and are also offering extended pay for those affected by COVID-19.

UFCW representatives weren’t immediately available for comment.

Elections by Mail

The ruling comes as Instacart is fighting legal and legislative challenges over its classification of grocery deliverers as independent contractors. Those workers, unlike in-store shoppers classified as employees, are treated as self-employed entrepreneurs. The company has over 500,000 full-service shoppers and nearly 10,000 in-store shoppers.

The UFCW already has unionized at least one other group of the grocery delivery service’s workers at a store in Skokie, Ill. Instacart’s in-store shoppers work a certain number of hours at a particular location, as opposed to freelancing at any other stores where customers choose to place orders.

Ohr’s order parallels a number of recent decisions from the agency permitting elections via mail ballot in order to prevent spreading Covid-19. Those rulings indicate that the UFCW or other unions’ efforts to organize Instacart workers could receive a boost because of the conditions gig workers deemed essential are facing as the coronavirus continues to disrupt workplaces around the globe.

“Here, the Employer has not suggested its essential employees are unable to vote, incapable of voting, or otherwise prevented from casting a ballot,” Ohr said. “Its only contentions are employees may become distracted from performing their ‘essential’ jobs by having the choice for union representation, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic somehow prevents employees from receiving information from the Employer.”

The company didn’t provide any evidence to support that assertion, the NLRB regional director said, and cited no cases where an election was postponed because of the potential for distraction.

The NLRB will send out mail ballots on May 20, with a voting deadline of June 11.

Source: Bloomberg

Union opposes reopening U.S. meat plants as more workers die

U.S. President Donald Trump on April 28 invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act to mandate meat plants stay opened during the pandemic, after companies warned of meat shortages in the United States. UFCW has previously said more protective equipment and testing would be required to open the plants. On Friday the union adopted a more critical tone.

“Today’s rush by the Trump Administration to re-open 14 meatpacking plants without the urgent safety improvements needed is a reckless move that will put American lives at risk and further endanger the long-term security of our nation’s food supply,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.

“Since the executive order was announced by President Trump, the Administration has failed to take the urgent action needed to enact clear and enforceable safety standards at these meatpacking plants.”

The 14 plants included a Smithfield Foods Inc pork facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that started operating on May 7 and another in Waterloo, Iowa, that Tyson Foods said earlier in the week would resume limited operations.

The agriculture department also said meat facilities operated by JBS USA [JBS.UL] in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and six other Tyson plants were reopening.

As of Thursday, about 35% of U.S. slaughter capacity for hogs still remained idle, said Steve Meyer, economist for Kerns and Associates. He estimated that about 32% to 33% was idle on Friday.

Source: Reuters

Kroger responds to unions’ call to extend ‘hero pay’

The Kroger Co. said it will evaluate changing conditions and employee needs after eight union locals called for the supermarket giant to further extend “hero bonuses” for frontline hourly workers amid the coronavirus crisis.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 7, 21, 324, 367, 555, 770, 1439 and Teamsters Local 38 said late yesterday that Kroger Co. grocery stores across the West notified associates that the company plans to stop paying the $2-per-hour bonus on May 17. They have now appealed to the public through the social media hashtag #EssentialHeroes to urge Kroger to maintain the COVID-19 bonus pay as well as improve store safety practices and provide testing for the virus to all employees.

The seven UFCW locals represent more than 55,000 workers at Kroger Co. stores — including such chains as Ralphs, Food 4 Less, King Soopers, Fred Meyer and QFC — in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

Cincinnati-based Kroger said Friday that, so far during the pandemic, it has invested more than $700 million to reward associates and protect employees, customers and the communities it serves. Over 80,000 workers nationwide — including displaced employees from hard-hit industry sectors such as restaurants, hotels and foodservice distributors — also have been offer jobs at the company to support retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and logistics operations, the retailer noted.

“Our temporary ‘hero bonus’ is scheduled to end in mid-May. In the coming months, we know that our associates’ needs will continue to evolve and change as our country recovers,” Kroger said in an email statement on Friday. “Our commitment is that we will continue to listen and be responsive, empowering us to make decisions that advance the needs of our associates, customers, communities and business. We continuously evaluate employee compensation and benefits packages.”

On March 31, Kroger announced a “hero bonus” of $2 an hour for all frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates for time worked from March 29 to April 18. That was later extended to May 2 and then mid-May. The company also paid out a one-time bonus of $300 to full-time associates and $150 to part-time associates on April 3. Kroger noted that its average hourly wage of $15 rises to more than $20 when benefits such as health care are factored in.

“We are committed to the continued support of our associates’ safety and mental well-being,” Kroger stated, “and we’ll continue our ongoing discussions on these critical aspects with the UFCW.”

As of May 8, UFCW Local 770 reported about 200 COVID-19 cases among its 30,000-plus member base, which includes over 20,000 grocery workers in Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties in California.

The UFCW locals, however, contend that the COVID-19 threat to grocery workers remains high — even as businesses begin to reopen in many states — and Kroger shouldn’t cancel extra pay for employees whom its customers depend on to buy food and supplies. The locals also are urging Kroger to “more effectively” limit the shopper count in stores to enable six-foot physical distancing and to have all customers and associates wear masks.

“With all eyes on essential workers during the pandemic, grocery corporations were quick to capitalize on the good PR of raising wages,” John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770 in Los Angeles, said in a statement. “But they cannot justify taking them away, especially since they have continued to do business while so many other businesses are closed and their profits are record high.”

As of May 8, UFCW 770 reported about 200 COVID-19 cases among its membership, which includes over 20,000 grocery workers in Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties in California plus another 10,000 members in the retail food and pharmacy, meatpacking and food processing, laboratory and cannabis sectors.

“The pandemic and its effects on the way people grocery shop and feed their families is not changing, so why is Kroger eliminating extra pay for workers they call heroes?” commented UFCW 770 member Julian Aguayo, a night crew stocker at Food 4 Less in Hollywood, Calif. “The essential role we play is not changing, why is our pay?”

Denver-based UFCW Local 7 said 39 members have tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 7, and on April 10 one member — a courtesy clerk at a King Soopers supermarket in Brush, Colo. — died from the virus.

“For more than two months, these workers have put their lives and their families lives at risk to protect and serve the communities they live and work in,” stated Kim Cordova, president of UFCW 7. “Taking away this hero pay from these essential workers disregards their continued heroism as they serve their communities in crisis.”

Overall, UFCW 7 represents more than 21,000 grocery workers, including over 14,000 Kroger Co. workers in Colorado and Wyoming.

“Just because states start to reopen doesn’t mean the dangers from COVID are less severe,” Cordova added. “Instead, grocery workers’ jobs become more dangerous as customer traffic increases. We’re already seeing a startling uptick in the number of essential grocery workers testing positive for COVID-19. These heroes provided and served their communities without hesitation. These #EssentialHeroes are asking for fair pay and safe stores.”

Kroger, though, on Friday cited a list of ways that the company is supporting and protecting associates during the pandemic, in addition to bonus pay. For example, the company said it’s offering testing to associates based on symptoms and medical need and providing emergency leave and paid time off to workers affected by the virus or experiencing symptoms. Other support includes health care coverage and retirement benefits, mental health resources, and $5 million through Kroger’s Helping Hands fund to aid associates experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19, including childcare costs.

And on the safety side, Kroger said it is supplying all associates with face masks and encouraging them to stay home if sick, as well as urging customers to wear masks in when in stores or use online services. The company, too, said it has continued to limit the number of shoppers in stores at a given time, installed shields and physical distancing floor decals in stores, expanded contactless payment options (such as Scan, Bag, Go and Kroger Pay) and introduced a no-contact option for online grocery delivery, along with low-contact pickup service and a ship-to-home offering.

Kroger also announced in mid-April that it has joined with UFCW International to call on federal and state government to classify grocery store workers emergency first respondersduring the coronavirus pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, our top priority is to provide and maintain a safe environment for our associates and customers with open stores, comprehensive digital solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain,” Kroger stated on Friday, “so that our communities always have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials.”

Source: Supermarket News

Amazon VP Resigns, Calls Company ‘Chickenshit’ for Firing Protesting Workers

Tim Bray, a well known senior engineer and Vice President at Amazon has “quit in dismay” because Amazon has been “firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.” In an open letter on his website, Bray, who has worked at the company for nearly six years, called the company “chickenshit” for firing and disparaging employees who have organized protests. He also said the firings are “designed to create a climate of fear.”

Amazon’s strategy throughout the coronavirus crisis has been to fire dissenters and disparage them both in the press and behind closed doors. There have been dozens of confirmed coronavirus cases at warehouses around the country, and workers have repeatedly said the company isn’t doing enough to protect them. Last week, Amazon ended a program that allowed workers to take unlimited unpaid time off if they fear getting sick from the coronavirus. Last Friday, Amazon workers together with Target, FedEx, Instacart, and Whole Foods workers, went on strike to protest their working conditions.

In statements to Motherboard, Amazon has said its own protesting workers are “spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon,” and that it “objects to the irresponsible actions of labor groups.” Last month, Amazon fired Chris Smalls, an Amazon worker in New York City. In a meeting, Amazon executives said that they believe Smalls is not “smart or articulate,” and that publicly they would focus on “laying out the case for why the organizer’s conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal,” according to leaked notes from that meeting obtained by VICE News.

In his resignation letter, Bray said that “firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.”

Bray is the highest-level (now former) Amazon employee to speak out about the company’s workplace culture and treatment of its workers. He has been well-known in the software engineering world for decades.

Last year, he was the highest-ranking employee to sign an open letter promoting a shareholders’ resolution calling for climate action at the company, which continues to work with fossil fuel companies. A total of 8,702 employees signed that letter. Bray has previously been arrested for protesting the Trans-Mountain Pipeline in Canada.

After Amazon fired two employees who helped organize a climate walkout around the time of that letter, Bray said he “snapped.”

“VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book,” he wrote. He said that he decided to quit in solidarity with those who have been fired. “Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on the actions I despised. So I resigned.”

“The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls,” he added.

Amazon declined to comment on Bray’s letter.

Source: Vice

Ralphs Supermarkets to Offer COVID-19 Testing to All Workers in Wake Of NBC4 I-Team Report

Workers protested outside of that Ralphs Friday morning, calling on the company to provide more protection for its employees. One of the demonstrators told the I-Team: “We’re asking the company to do more to protect the health of these workers.”

Jackie Mayoral, a customer service worker at the Sunset location, tested positive for COVID-19 on April 25. She explained that the coronavirus is “10 times worse” than any flu she’s had.

NBC4 learned another five employees at a Ralphs in Westwood have also contracted the virus. And the upscale Bristol Farms market on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood also had five employees test positive, according to the LA County Public Health Department website. Ralphs wouldn’t confirm the number of its stores with employees who tested positive but said its “in the double digits.”

Multiple grocery store chains are putting more protective measures in place to heighten the safety of customers and workers. Many, like Ralphs, have installed plexiglass shields at checkout counters to protect cashiers and are providing gloves and masks to workers. Some chains like Walmart have placed floor decals to remind customers to practice social distancing.

“We’ve already implemented layers of safety for our associates,” Ralphs spokesman John Votava told NBC4. Referring to the COVID-19 tests it will soon offer employees, Votava said, “This is going to be another layer of protection on top of that.”

On Friday, the I-Team asked Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of the county health department, what the county is doing to make sure supermarkets are following safety guidelines. She urged customers to call a tip line if they see any stores flouting safety guidelines set by LA County.

“People can call in those complaints and we do send out our environmental health inspector to make sure that all the essential businesses are adhering to the health officer order directive,” Ferrer said.

In addition to the safety protocols at grocery stores, customers are urged to wear a mask and gloves, sanitize their carts and baskets and physically distance themselves from other customers and employees.

The phone number for the county tip line is 888-700-9995. Concerned customers or employees can also file an online complaint here.

NBC4 called the Bristol Farms for comment about its outbreak. Assistant Manager Eddie Hernandez wouldn’t comment and directed us to corporate headquarters. So far, NBC4 has not received a comment from corporate.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

Congress considers tax holiday for grocery workers

  • Federal lawmakers are considering a bipartisan bill that would allow grocery and convenience store workers who earn less than $75,000 per year to avoid paying federal income tax on up to $25,000 in wages they receive between Feb. 15 and June 15, 2020. The bill, known as the Giving Retailers and Our Convenience Employees Relief (GROCER) Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives April 21 by Pennsylvania Reps. Glenn Thompson, a Republican, and Dwight Evans, a Democrat.
  • The legislation would allow the Treasury Department to extend the tax holiday for as long as three additional months if the national emergency President Trump declared in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak continues beyond the initial three-month period. Workers would be able to exclude up to $6,250 in income per month if the tax break is lengthened.​
  • The Food Industry Association (FMI) and the National Grocers Association both reacted positively to the proposed bill. Jennifer Hatcher, FMI’s chief public policy officer, said in a statement the legislation “recognizes the efforts the food industry has contributed as critical infrastructure and gives [workers] well-deserved tax relief for their commitment to ensuring that grocery stores are able to remain open and stocked to serve all of us during this national emergency.​” NGA, meanwhile, supports the lawmakers’ “efforts to recognize front line workers by providing them with tax relief for their time spent working during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Molly Pfaffenroth, the association’s director of government relations, said in a statement released jointly by Thompson and Evans.

The proposed tax holiday could offer an added measure of financial support to grocery workers, who are risking their health in order to work in settings where they must come into contact with other people for an extended period of time. If approved, the move could also help grocers attract or retain workers as the industry scrambles to bring on additional staff to meet crushing demand from shoppers.

Thompson described the proposal as a way to reward grocery workers for their contributions during the coronavirus outbreak. “The GROCER Act is a simple way of saying ‘thank you’ to the men and women who put themselves on the front lines, sanitizing, stocking, and serving communities by putting a little more of their hard-earned money back in their paychecks,” he said in the statement.

Grocers have taken steps since the start of the outbreak to give a boost to their workers by temporarily raising pay, with some companies announcing extensions to the wage increases as the pandemic wears on. For example, H-E-B announced in an April 2 tweet that it will pay an extra $2 per hour through May 10 to hourly store associates and manufacturing, warehouse and transportation employees. Hy-Vee said yesterday that it is extending the 10% bonus it is paying front-line employees through March 16.

But even with the pay increases, grocery workers remain at the low end of the income spectrum, raising questions about how much many would actually benefit from a short-term income tax exemption. Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told Law360 that tax holidays can wind up providing few benefits to low-wage workers because they often earn too little to have federal tax liability. The median pay for cashiers at retailers like grocery stores in 2019 was $11.37 per hour, or $23,650 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, median full-time weekly earnings for workers in the United States were $936 in the fourth quarter of 2019, which would translate to $48,672 per year, the agency reported.

Source: Grocery Dive

Coronavirus energizes the labor movement. Can it last?

In Los Angeles, Glendale and Long Beach, thousands of laid-off janitors and hotel workers besieged elected officials with petitions seeking future job guarantees.

Nurses took to the streets in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Irvine and Oceanside to shame hospitals for failing to protect them against the coronavirus.

And from Oakland to Monterey Park, employees at dozens of fast-food outlets, including McDonald’s, Domino’s and Wendy’s, walked off their jobs protesting a lack of social distancing measures.

The COVID-19 pandemic is unleashing a wave of labor unrest across California and the nation. Unions, harnessing the fear and anger, are organizing many of the protests, rallying media coverage and successfully pressuring public officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The crisis presents a unique opportunity to press for new business rules on such issues as worker safety, pay and benefits that have long been central to labor’s agenda.

More demonstrations are expected Friday to coincide with May Day, International Workers’ Day. Union nurses at six Los Angeles hospitals will rally for better safety equipment. Car caravans will circle an Amazon delivery hub in Hawthorne and a Ralphs supermarket on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles — targets of workplace complaints after employees tested positive for the virus.

But as workers flex their muscles, ratcheting up demands on employers, will they open the way to a new era of collective bargaining?

It won’t be easy: Nationally, just 11.6 % of workers are represented by unions. Even in labor-friendly California, the portion has dropped to 16.5% from 22% three decades ago.

“The crisis has laid bare the effects of income inequality and conditions of low-wage workers,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education. “We are seeing an upsurge of worker actions. Unions are playing a leadership role. Their members’ lives are at stake.”

Organized labor is assisting not just its own members but also protesters at nonunion companies. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is backing Amazon warehouse workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is helping organize Instacart shoppers. The Service Employees International Union is funding fast-food activists and Uber drivers.

“Even before the pandemic, workers were living on the edge financially,” said Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents 800,000 union members. “This crisis has been the glue for workers to come together, blue-collar and white-collar, not just union members. It sounds corny, but we’re moving towards a worker rebellion.”

Others are less sanguine about the prospects for a worker uprising when more than 30 million people in the U.S. have filed for jobless benefits.

“During the last recession, it was very hard to organize,” said Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment. “When unemployment is high, people just want to get back to work.”

Nonetheless, he said: “These direct actions are inspiring workers to believe they have power. McDonald’s workers in San Jose got plexiglass separators and protective gear after a four-day strike. And they weren’t terminated — which never would have happened before.”

Still, if the pandemic’s economic fallout is crippling businesses, it is also slamming the finances of unions in hard-hit occupations such as hospitality and entertainment. At Unite Here, which represents 307,000 workers at hotels, casinos, airports and stadiums nationwide, 98% of members have been laid off.

“This is a cataclysm,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11 in Los Angeles, which furloughed nearly half its staff of 110 as dues from 32,000 members dried up. “It’s hard to comprehend just how far we have fallen, and when we can ever expect to come out of this.”

Local 11 has organized mass food distributions with other unions and rallied volunteers to help more than 1,000 members apply for unemployment benefits. “People text me asking, ‘When’s the next food bank?’” Petersen said. “It breaks my heart.”

He doesn’t see labor’s political clout diminishing. In recent weeks, Local 11 volunteers have telephoned 25,000 members, spurring a mass lobbying push for local job security and safety measures.

“We’re on the offense, not the defense,” Petersen said.

Businesses, many of them crippled by stay-at-home orders and a collapse in consumer spending, are watching the activism in dismay.

“The unions have fully gone for it,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. in Van Nuys. “They’re pushing the envelope.”

Waldman and leaders of other business groups fought Los Angeles unions over the city’s new ordinance requiring large companies to offer workers affected by COVID-19 an additional 10 days of paid sick leave beyond the current six-day requirement.

And they unsuccessfully battled new laws, backed by Unite Here and SEIU, that will force L.A. hotels and janitorial companies to offer jobs to laid-off workers based on seniority after they reopen. Even businesses that change ownership must grant former employees the right to return to their old jobs.

Waldman describes the measures, signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday, as “anti-millennial. Your most senior people may not be your best people.” Unions say they protect employee activists and prevent age discrimination — and hope to extend them statewide.

Health insurance is another battleground. With Los Angeles International Airport all but shut down, Unite Here activists last week persuaded the City Council to condition rent relief for airport concessions on continuing to pay medical benefits for 4,000 laid-off food service and retail workers.

For Karla Cortez, a single mother who earned $18.90 an hour as a saleswoman at an LAX skincare boutique, that was “a big blessing.” Cortez, who was laid off April 2, had a bout with thyroid cancer five years ago and knew cancer survivors could be vulnerable to COVID-19.

When the pandemic hit, “I wondered how I’d survive,” she said. Her thyroid medication costs $50 a month under her healthcare plan. If benefits disappear, it would cost $1,000 a month.

Along with other Unite Here members, Cortez, 46, circulated petitions and sent video testimony to airport officials and City Council members. “Without the union, we’d be in big trouble,” she said.

On Thursday, a caravan of 80 cars snaked along Century Boulevard as hotel workers hoisted signs reading “Healthcare for All,” part of a Unite Here campaign to pressure LAX-area hotels to extend medical benefits for laid-off employees.

“Hotels are getting money in the federal bailout,” Petersen said. “They should use some of that to pay workers’ healthcare.”

Organized labor has also sought new gains in Sacramento.

On April 16, after fierce lobbying by the UFCW, Newsom signed an executive order requiring food sector companies that employ 500 or more workers to give two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to any who contract COVID-19 or are exposed to the virus.

Before the order, just 14% of California workers were entitled to as much as two weeks of paid sick leave for any illness. (State law mandates just three days.) As COVID-19 spread, some companies expanded leave, but Newsom’s order applies to all major groceries, restaurants, fast-food chains, food processing and packaging plants, farms and delivery services.

UFCW Local 770, which represents 20,000 grocery workers, had already spurred new safety ordinances in the city and county of Los Angeles after some stores had warned workers not to scare customers by wearing masks. Now stores must provide masks and sanitizer to workers, and customers must wear face coverings too.

Still, the union is clamoring for stricter enforcement. On Tuesday, it mounted a Koreatown caravan protest demanding that Kroger step up protections in its Food 4 Less stores. Signs scrawled on the car windows read, “No more new infections.”

Ralphs’ May Day protest was scheduled after 16 workers at the Sunset Boulevard store tested positive.

One statewide initiative is the focus of an intense struggle. The California Labor Federation is pushing to expand workers’ compensation insurance to automatically cover COVID-19 infections or doctors’ quarantine recommendations for healthcare, law enforcement, grocery, warehouse, transportation and other front-line employees.

“Workers should not have to fight denials and delays while fighting for their lives,” federation chief Art Pulaski wrote Newsom and legislative leaders March 27.

Employers contend that would cost them billions of dollars when it is often unclear if infections originate in the workplace.

“Many businesses and their owners are casualties of the necessary economic shutdown,” Allan Zaremberg, president and chief executive of the California Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an April 7 response signed by more than 70 business groups. “They cannot be expected to shoulder a new employer-financed social safety net.”

Labor groups have organized mask donations for their members, some emblazoned with union logos.

One union was perhaps too eager to intervene: In March, the SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers West branch announced it had arranged to buy 39 million highly protective N95 masks for California hospitals and government agencies. By early April, federal authorities determined the union had been duped by shady middlemen.

At a CVS warehouse in La Habra last week, Teamsters Local 952 distributed masks to truckers and warehouse workers inscribed “952 HERO.” Two workers had tested positive for COVID-19 after the union complained to CVS for weeks about a lack of masks and hand sanitizer, as well as a failure to enforce social distancing.

Anger escalated after a CVS memo circulated telling employees how to mix their own bleach solution at home. And workers are upset CVS has declined to offer $2-an-hour hazard pay boost, which employees at a nearby Albertsons warehouse receive. Last week, fliers appeared on parking lot windshields threatening a wildcat strike.

“CVS has insulted our members,” said Eric Jimenez, Local 952’s principal officer. “They offered us a one-time bonus of $300, but if you called in sick you couldn’t get the bonus.”

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said in an email that the bonus is available to any worker who falls ill. “We are constantly working to increase the availability of supplies and update protocols to help ensure the safety of our employees,” he wrote. “Refreshed mask supplies are available weekly and we have put in place social distancing guidelines.”

Whether it is slog-it-out bargaining over safety measures or bold legislative moves, unions see their coronavirus activism as the beginning of a new era for the labor movement.

“It takes a pandemic to wake workers up,” Jimenez said. “Without a union, how many people can walk in to complain about safety without the fear of retaliation? Unions can hire lawyers and call politicians. We’ve shown our members somebody cares.”

Herrera, the county labor federation chief, predicts unions will ramp up organizing after the pandemic.

“Workers are clearly seeing the inequities and the lack of protections,” he said. “They’re seeing the advantages of being a unionized worker. There’s a resentment in the workplace that we have to take advantage of.”

Source: Los Angeles Times