Having the support of the community will help these workers get what they deserve, and that’s hazard pay.

With COVID-19 and all the mandates that come along with it, we have collectively been experiencing a year crazier than we could imagine. These mandates are put into place to limit the spread of COVID-19 which has simultaneously been causing businesses to limit the number of people in stores, some even closing permanently. 

Something that does not cross many people’s minds is that even during lockdowns there were still people working in stores providing an essential service. When the mandates were first put into place in March grocery workers demanded hazard pay. The idea behind hazard pay is extra payment for working under dangerous conditions, COVID-19 would fall under this. During the end of March workers received an additional two dollars an hour. However, by mid-May, this bonus was no longer being distributed. 

Big grocery store chains like Kroger, Safeway, FredMyers, Abertsons, QFC and Haggan all encountered a positive influx in revenue and customer attendance. A Forbes article titled “Corporate Greed Won’t Bring Back Hazard Pay To Workers—Even With The Resurgence Of Covid-19” stated,“These fortunate stores reaped the benefits and realized significant increases in revenue. The stock share prices of their companies held up or skyrocketed higher, whereas their competitors floundered.” 

Making so much money from the pandemic, these corporations argue that due to the rise in profits, hazard pay or bonuses are no longer necessary because the pandemic no longer poses a threat — a claim that many union representatives have been trying to fight against. But, this is clearly not the case, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and people still need groceries. In light of this, The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is fighting for these workers to get the hazard pay that they should have been this whole time. 

For those who don’t know what a union is, on their website the UFCW describes it as  “A nonprofit, democratic organization of workers who have formally come together to promote their interests and advocate on each other’s behalf.” 

They also mention they fight for workers by “pushing for better wages or working conditions with specific employers, defending individual workers when their rights are violated on the job, championing state and federal laws and new legislation that protect workers rights, and holding irresponsible companies or government agencies accountable in court or by other means when they don’t do their jobs properly.”

UFCW 367 is the local union that represents its workers from Pierce, Lewis, Grays and Mason Counties. Being a part of a union lets the workers know that they have someone who will fight for them when their employers are taking advantage.

Grocery unions are representing workers coast to coast, across the US they have been fighting to bring back, or get, workers hazard pay since the beginning of COVID-19. The workers and the communities on the East Coast fought hard enough that the companies finally gave in and brought back the pay. 

An article on the UFCW website titled “UFCW Announces COVID-19 Hazard Pay Deal for ShopRite Grocery Workers in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut As Pandemic Continues,” that came out Nov. 25  stated, “a new agreement with ShopRite on hazard pay for nearly 50,000 union grocery workers in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The deal recognizes the ongoing risks ShopRite workers have faced as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and provides retroactive hazard pay ahead of the holiday season that covers all hours worked between July 26 and August 22.”

In fact, UFCW has confirmed that “109 grocery worker deaths and over 48,000 grocery workers infected or exposed since the pandemic began.” The collective power created by the union of these workers allowed them to fight to get their hazard payback. 

Following the withdrawal and lack of hazard pay on the west coast back in May, UFCW 367 has been fighting for the workers to get it back since. But, despite all of the hard work of the union, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears as the companies maintain that the pay is no longer necessary.

The president of UFCW 367, Angel González, said “We are fighting for Hazard Pay and safety for all essential grocery workers. The big chain grocers like Kroger have had record breaking profits during this pandemic, they need to invest in their employees and the safety in their stores.”  

These companies are acquiring increasingly large profits during this time, all they see is the big money flow from customers and are looking the other way when it comes to those working in the stores. 

These companies need to stop thinking about the money aspect and think about supporting the people who are making them flourish while also putting themselves at risk. It’s obvious these companies are making the money, they have the funds to allocate hazard pay. 

This fight should not be left to the grocery store workers alone. The locals can also help fight for their community by showing support. The next time you’re at the grocery store, if you see a worker wearing a button that says “All I Want for the Holidays is Hazard Pay” ask about the buttons, the workers will likely be open to give their insight into the button’s significance. You can then contact the company and explain why you, as a community member, feel that these workers deserve hazard pay. Community support can go a long way in winning this fight. 

Getting grocery workers the hazard pay they deserve is important because they have been in the stores working when others have the ability and comfort of working from home. They still get up and brave the world despite the prominence of the virus in order to serve their community and ensure we have the essentials we need to live regardless of the potential risk to their health. With everything that they have done for the community one thing that we can do to support them is to help them acquire the pay they should have been getting since March.

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