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UFCW Applauds Biden Support for Essential Worker COVID Premium Pay in American Rescue Plan State Funding Guidance

May 11, 2021

Grocery Cashier Wearing Mask While Working

Union for 1.3 Million Essential Workers Urges Governors and Local Leaders to Act to Ensure COVID Premium Pay Goes to Frontline Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents 1.3 million essential food and retail workers, applauded the just-announced Biden Administration guidance calling for essential worker COVID premium pay to be prioritized as governors distribute the $350 billion in state and local COVID relief aid from the American Rescue Plan. States like in PennsylvaniaVermontMichigan, and Virginia implemented successful COVID premium pay programs earlier in the pandemic.

UFCW praised the Biden Administration and Congress for emphasizing that the COVID “premium pay,” or hazard pay, should be (1) prioritized for essential workers, (2) the premium pay can and should be retroactive, (3) the premium pay is intended for a broad range of essential workers including grocerymeatpacking, and healthcare workers, and (4) can be employer-provided. To read the full Biden Administration guidance, click here.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement:

“President Biden and Congress are sending a clear message to governors and local leaders that COVID premium pay for essential workers must be a priority for the $350 billion in state and local relief funding from the American Rescue Plan. 

“When companies refuse to provide workers with critical PPE, workers have to spend their own money to protect themselves and their customers. When frontline workers are exposed to COVID-19 multiple times and no longer have enough paid sick leave to safely quarantine, they feel forced to come to work sick to pay the bills. COVID premium pay is not just about recognizing the health risks essential workers have faced and continue to face, it’s about making sure essential workers have the support they need to keep our communities safe from future outbreaks as well.

“America’s essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants have put their health at risk every day on the frontlines of this pandemic to make sure families can put food on the table. As the union for these frontline workers, UFCW is calling on governors and local officials in all 50 states to step up and ensure this new funding is used to provide the COVID premium pay these brave essential workers have earned as they continue to serve our country on the frontlines of this health crisis.”


UFCW has been a leading national voice for frontline workers and has already helped secure COVID premium pay deals for over 120,000 grocery workers across the country. Additionally, UFCW has supported COVID premium pay mandates recently passed in Los AngelesSeattleSan Francisco, and more than 24 other cities and counties. 

Brookings Institution report found that in 2018, there were 22 million workers in essential jobs with median wages below $15 per hour and highlighted how states could use COVID relief funding to provide COVID premium pay to these frontline workers:

  • Providing $2 per hour in COVID premium pay for 12 weeks, in the form of new pay or retroactive pay, is the equivalent of about $1,000 per worker.
  • Such a plan amounts to a total of $22 billion to support this critical COVID premium pay which is equivalent to just over 10 percent of the original Senate HEROES Fund proposal.
  • Many innovative state government-led programs can serve as a model for the new COVID premium pay supported by the Biden Administration
  • States like in PennsylvaniaVermontMichigan, and Virginia have already implemented successful COVID premium pay programs earlier in the pandemic
  • In Pennsylvania, its COVID premium pay program used $50 million in federal funding from the CARES Act, with a strong equity focus that prioritized money for:
    • Essential workers at the highest risk of COVID infection
    • Workers receiving the lowest pay and had the greatest financial need
    • Workers who had the least access to COVID premium pay from their employer

COVID NUMBERS: UFCW recently confirmed that COVID-19 continues to threaten essential food workers nationwide. Since March 1, UFCW reports a nearly 35 percent increase in grocery worker deaths and a nearly 30 percent increase in grocery workers infected or exposed following supermarket outbreaks at Whole FoodsCostcoTrader Joe’s and other chains across the country. According to new UFCW estimates, among the union’s members nationwide, there have already been at least:

  • 462 frontline worker deaths and at least 93,300 frontline workers infected or exposed
  • 184 grocery worker deaths and at least 41,700 grocery workers infected or exposed 
  • 132 meatpacking worker deaths and 22,290 meatpacking workers infected or exposed 


UFCW International is the largest private sector union in the United States. UFCW International represents 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries. Our members serve our communities in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at ufcw.org

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