Front-line food workers are pleading for better environments and essential pay.
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Grocery store chains that implemented a temporary wage increase of $2 more an hour and bonuses have stopped essential pay as the U.S. starts to reopen the economy amid the coronavirus crisis, but labor unions and employees continuing to face health risks on the clock are speaking out.
“Every day, you fear that you might catch the virus at work," said Raquel Solario, 55, an employee at Kroger-owned Ralphs grocery store in San Diego, during a recent press conference with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. "You fear that you might take the virus home to your family. I’ve had customers swear at me when we ask them to wear a mask.”
The labor union represents 1.3 million workers in the U.S. and Canada.
Solario says five people in her household are employed by Kroger and collectively they put in 250 hours per week.
“We are working long hours under stressful conditions," she said. "At my store, they take daily temperature scans, but the thermometers the company provides us don’t work. Kroger and all grocery companies need to provide protective equipment, testing, and essential pay that all of us need so that we can keep our stores operating safely. Our lives are on the line.”
Walmart, the country’s biggest grocery chain, Amazon-owned Whole Foods, Rite Aid and Kroger have suspended hazard pay for workers as states nationwide begin to reopen. Kroger in May said full-time workers would get a one-time bonus of $400 while part-time workers would receive $200 to be paid out May 30 and June 18, however it eliminated its hazard pay last month.
"Kroger continues to provide a safe environment for millions of customers to access fresh, affordable food during the pandemic," a spokesperson for Kroger told FOX Business in an email, noting safety efforts the chain has made, such as giving out free COVID-19 tests for associates based on medical need, providing masks to associates, maintaining social distancing guidelines in stores and providing paid emergency leave to employees.
Target said it is extending the temporary $2-an-hour pay increase it announced in March through July 4. It applies to all store and distribution center hourly full-time and part-time workers.
Amazon and Walmart did not immediately return requests for comment.
Providing bonuses and increased benefits can be costly to retailers, especially during a global health crisis. But with the virus still present, front-line employees are faced with no choice but to continue risking their lives.
UFCW released internal numbers on May 28 that show "at least 68 grocery workers have died and more than 10,000 have been infected by or exposed to the new coronavirus."
CORONAVIRUS SMALL BUSINESS RESCUE RECIPIENTS COULD FACE LOAN FORGIVENESS CHALLENGES - HERE'S WHY “When workers face higher risks, they should be paid more," UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement to FOX Business. "These workers are not facing fewer hazards and are still putting themselves in harm’s way, interacting with thousands of customers a day, to help ensure our families have the food we need.”