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UFCW: Whole Foods COVID Outbreak in Detroit is Wake-Up Call to Threat Grocery Workers Still Face on Frontlines of the Pandemic in Stores Across the Country

February 26, 2021 Updated: March 1, 2021

Whole Foods Storefront

Union for 1.3 Million Frontline Workers Calls for Immediate Action to Hold Grocery Chains Accountable for Ongoing COVID Safety Failures

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, — including over 44,000 Michigan essential workers — condemned the safety failures that led to a new COVID outbreak at a Whole Foods in Detroit that has already infected at least 23 grocery workers and put countless customers at risk of exposure to the virus. This is part of a new wave of grocery COVID outbreaks in the past two months infecting thousands of workers across Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and other cities. These recent outbreaks underscore the urgent need to expedite vaccine access to grocery workers and provide them with the hazard pay for the risks they face.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone released the following statement: 

“This Whole Foods COVID outbreak in Detroit is another wake-up call to grocery companies and elected leaders that these brave essential workers deserve and have earned more protections and must be immediately prioritized for vaccine access. The fact is that this pandemic is far from over and national grocery companies, from Whole Foods to Kroger, are failing to do what is necessary to protect essential workers and the customers who depend on them every day. 

“The Whole Foods outbreak further proves what UFCW has warned the public about for months – that national grocery companies must stop making excuses and must immediately increase worker protections, enforce mask wearing in stores, provide hazard pay, and commit to disclosing when frontline workers have been infected and died. 

“Taking all of these safety actions is absolutely critical to protecting workers and our communities from this pandemic. Until these urgent changes are made, national grocery chains like Whole Foods and Kroger must be held accountable for the safety failures that are leading to these supermarket outbreaks and are endangering the lives of essential workers, customers and the communities they serve.”

BACKGROUND:

As the largest union for grocery workers, UFCW has highlighted the growing threat in stores as the pandemic continues. Grocery COVID outbreaks have spiked in the past two months with over 130 different grocery COVID outbreaks in Southern California, nearly 200 Costco worker infections at a single store in Washington State, and close to 500 grocery worker infections at Kroger stores in Houston just since Christmas.

VACCINE ACCESS: UFCW recently confirmed that essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants lack vaccine access in over 35 states]UFCW recently reported that essential workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants lack vaccine access in over 35 states.

GROCERY HAZARD PAY: UFCW has led the push to restore grocery hazard pay for these essential workers. Last week, UFCW local unions helped secure new grocery hazard pay mandates in SeattleLos AngelesLong Beach, and many other cities on the West Coast. This has prompted action from national grocery chains. Trader Joe’s expanded hazard pay for its 10,000 grocery workers, but Kroger retaliated by closing multiple grocery stores, a move condemned by UFCW. In recent months, UFCW’s national hazard pay campaign has helped secure additional hazard pay deals for 120,000 grocery workers in California, New York, and across New England.

COVID NUMBERS: UFCW announced the COVID threat to frontline food workers is worsening every day. Among the union’s members across the country, there have now been:

  • Nearly 400 frontline worker deaths and 77,600 frontline workers infected or exposed 
  • 137 grocery worker deaths and over 30,100 grocery workers infected or exposed 

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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