The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers including employees at Kroger, CVS, Albertsons and Macy's, is calling on the "CEOs of retailers across the industry" to keep "mask rules in place for most people."
In doing so, the community and frontline workers will be better protected, the union said, adding that more than 200 million Americans have yet to get fully vaccinated.
UFCW International President Marc Perrone said the relaxed rules make it harder for frontline workers who were first "forced to play mask police throughout the pandemic" but are now being asked to "be the vaccination police."
The issue, Perrone said, is that "it is virtually impossible" to tell if someone is fully vaccinated.
"Before the new CDC mask guidance, we knew that unmasked shoppers were ignoring COVID safety measures and likely unvaccinated, so we knew to keep our distance if we were concerned," he said.
According to UFCW data, there has been a nearly 35% increase in grocery worker deaths and a nearly 30% increase in grocery workers infected or exposed to the virus since March 1.
The aforementioned companies, however, are among a growing number of retailers that have adjusted their policies after federal health officials declared that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to cover their faces while in most indoor settings.
In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s latest guidance, fully vaccinated customers at those locations – anyone who is two weeks past their last required vaccine dose – are no longer required to cover up while inside, unless it is mandated at the state or local level.
The CDC's recent move to ease mask-wearing guidance outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings was seen as a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life.
"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing," Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said during a White House briefing last week.
Fully vaccinated individuals are still advised to wear masks while in crowded indoor settings like public transportation, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, according to the CDC. Immunocompromised individuals are also encouraged to consult a physician before giving up masks, Walensky said, warning that if the country's case counts go back up the guidance could change.
"We’ve gotten this far — please protect yourself until you get to the finish line," President Joe Biden said, noting that most Americans under 65 are not yet fully vaccinated. He said the government was not going to enforce the mask wearing guidance on those not yet fully vaccinated.
Walmart, Sam's Clubs, Target, Home Depot, Trader Joe's, Publix, Costco and Starbucks are among other retailers that have adjusted their policies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.