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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

President Jim McLaughlin led a telephone town hall in which Local 99 members heard updates on how the union and employers are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voicing his concern about the stresses endured by workers and their families, President McLaughlin described a wide range of mental health benefits that are available to the members.

“We’re about a month into this crisis and it seems like it could have been 10 years,” he said.

“We’re in a critical stage in the battle against COVID-19,” he continued. “Some of us already know people who have taken ill or even died.”

Noting that Local 99 lost a shop steward to the disease, he added: “Knowing someone in our union family who we lost to this virus makes it that much more difficult.”

‘Inspired by your remarkable bravery’

“I want to let you know how much I am personally inspired by your remarkable bravery and dedication during this emergency,” President McLaughlin said. “This is like nothing we have experienced in our lifetimes, but you are responding as true professionals in the critical industries we serve, across the board in our industries we serve.

“The work you are doing and putting your personal health and safety on the line so that others can take care of themselves and their families is tremendous.

“For that and more, you have my profound respect and appreciation,” he continued. “And you can be sure you have the respect and appreciation of the public at large. You can see it everywhere.”

Addressing the stress

Addressing the stresses being felt by members, he said:

“All of us are affected in one way or another. At home, our families endure boredom and isolation from friends and family we cherish — especially now, going into Easter weekend and Passover.

“While our families endure boredom, at work we endure the extreme opposite — stress that goes well beyond the anxieties we customarily experience on the job:

“We have shoppers in panic.”

“We have shoppers who strip the shelves bare faster than you can fill them.”

“We have shoppers who are rude and disrespectful.”

“We have shoppers who stand too close.”

“We also have shoppers who appreciate what we are doing and need us. We have always taken care of them and they need us to continue”

“In some cases, we lack personal protective equipment and other safety features — masks, gloves, disinfectants and barriers at check stands and other crucial points inside the store.

“Wherever we are — at home, at work and traveling in between — we worry:

  • What happens if I get sick? If a family member gets sick?
  • Who will look after my children when I’m at work? There are daycare issues across our membership.
  • How can I handle living with others, including family members or roommates, in close quarters for such long periods of time?
  • How can I deal with conflicts that inevitably arise with management and coworkers in this time of crisis and stress we’re all dealing with
  • Where can I get help with issues such as alcohol or drug addiction, marital and parenting issues, financial problems and more when my usual support systems are unavailable?

“These are things our members are struggling with everywhere, McLaughlin said. “The crisis we’re all experiencing can lead to depression, stress, anger and more.”

To answer that crisis, he said, “Our partner, HMC Healthworks, has put together a package in email form that includes videos, audio recordings to listen to in the car, and ways to contact HMC through telemedicine. This is help for you or any family member or children who are dependents.”

Check the website

McLaughlin reminded members participating in the telephone call about the wealth of information on the union’s website, UFCW99.com, as well as the union’s social media outlets.

“There you will find current information from reliable sources on how to protect yourself, your loved ones and others you encounter from the virus that causes COVID-19,” he said. “On our website you will also find links to resources provided by our union and government agencies.”

He said that Teladoc received a huge surge of members who were signing up online and getting involved, “and the people at Teladoc were overwhelmed.”

“Teladoc has assured us that a lot of that has been handled and response much quicker now,” McLaughlin said.

Questions and answers

Secretary-Treasurer Stan Chavira read a few questions the union frequently hears from members. President McLaughlin provided the answers.

What departments are getting the protective shields and why are they so small? They don’t really protect us at all.

We know the front end is getting shields up in most stores and pharmacies, and we are aware they are coming to Starbucks, too. We had hopes they would be bigger, but realistically the purpose of the shield is to give our members room to step back behind and have some protection that otherwise wouldn’t be there. We hope this is a short-term fix and there will be better long-term solutions.

Why is my company giving $2 appreciation pay and then cutting hours to seasoned workers and hiring new employees?

We’ve been talking to the companies about rewarding our members for this additional work on the front lines. Cutting hours hasn’t happened much, that we know of. For the most part, our members are working at least what they were a month ago and most likely more than that. Hiring additional employees is by design to help our members who are overwhelmed in the stores. Some members are working seven days a week, 60 hours in a week still. We would like to remind everyone that you have the ability to maximize your hours with the protection of the union contract.

Companies have offered to pay appreciation pay only until April 18. Why not to the end of April?

We are all having additional conversations about the appreciation pay. No one knows how long this crisis will last. Fry’s just started with the $2 premium pay and Safeway extended the date. We hope the other employers will extend as we progress through this crisis.

When will stores get masks and gloves? What about hand sanitizers?

The companies have assured us that they are coming. Stores are allowing us to wear our own personal masks and gloves while we work. Health care workers are getting the first available masks, but companies have assured us they will have supplies in their stores soon, as well as hand sanitizer. If not, let the store manager know and your union rep know. We are keeping track of that. Local 99 was able to procure a small number of masks and sanitizer and we hope to get that out to the stores next week. The masks we have are not medical grade, they’re cotton masks, but they will be out there to help with safety and we plan to get them to as many people as possible.

Do I have to get tested and test positive for COVID-19 in order to get paid for sick pay?

This depends on the company you work for. Safeway needs to have you tested or have your doctor take you off work. Fry’s policy is different. The bottom line is you need a doctor to take you off work to get sick pay. If you go off work on your own because you don’t feel safe or you feel the need to self-quarantine, both companies have been willing to make exceptions by using vacation time and other options. This is a great question for your union reps because they will know your personal situation and the company policy. I strongly urge you to give your rep a call.

Our stores need to limit customers. Will they close on Sunday?

These discussions you are having with reps and managers I’m also having with your companies. We are working with them to limit customers in the stores. It’s a great tool to help social distancing and have a safe workplace. No one expected this to happen and these concepts are things that haven’t been considered before. The shopping patterns have changed. Now the hours of 7-10 a.m. are swamped and later in afternoon some stores are a ghost town. With limiting customers and changing store hours, the end result will be better for all of us when people get more secure with product on shelves and return to more sensible shopping.

I heard an employee at my store tested positive. What do I do?

Talk to your store manager. If they hear something, they will alert you. If you believe you’ve been exposed, contact your physician and keep your store manager in the know. It’s critical that you include your store manager and doctor. Kroger announced they are checking employees and some have started checking vendors by taking temperatures. I’ve heard Safeway is taking temperatures of employees and vendors. I think we’ll see a lot more of that.

Number one rule in this: Don’t go to work sick. It’s that simple.

Conclusion

President McLaughlin concluded the call with a discussion of the federal stimulus package that was enacted last week. “We have been talking about the next stimulus package, which needs to include care for our members for the longer term after this is over,” he said. “We are working with congressional representatives so they understand what our priorities are and what the priorities of our members are.”

McLaughlin said he will lead another teleconference soon.

“In the meantime, if you have any questions or need assistance with the issues we discussed — or anything else relating to your jobs or your physical or mental health — please contact your union representative or call the union office,” he said. “Look for emails from your union and from HMC.

“While our physical offices are closed to walk-in requests, we are hard at work around the clock to serve you. All it takes is a phone call, an email, a text message or a visit to our website, UFCW99.com.

“We’re here to help you every step of the way. Call your union!”

At the end of the call, members were asked to leave a voicemail with any specific questions they have. Their union representatives will contact them with answers over next day or so.