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Grocery union seeks ‘first responder’ designation for workers

Grocery union seeks ‘first responder’ designation for workers

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Customers at a Florissant Dierbergs pack the store around 8:30 a.m. on Friday, March 20, 2020. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

BALLWIN — The union that represents St. Louis-area grocery workers at Schnucks, Dierbergs and Straub’s wants Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to designate grocery and pharmacy workers as first responders.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Parson, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 President David Cook asked that employees stocking shelves and delivering food to Missourians holed up at home due to the coronavirus pandemic “be recognized as the essential workers they are during this crisis.”

Cook said the designation should give grocery workers priority access to COVID-19 tests and safety equipment. He also asked that they be made eligible for wage reimbursement if they’re quarantined or a store is shut down due to the outbreak. The letter also asks for state security at stores and state aid for child care while schools are closed.

“On behalf of the 15,000 UFCW workers and the (tens of thousands) of other grocery and pharmacy workers across the state, I respectfully ask for you to strongly consider the following requests,” Cook wrote.

Some other states have taken similar approaches. Minnesota designated grocery workers as essential, giving them access to free child care. Vermont and Michigan are also giving special designations to grocery workers in an effort to provide child care during the epidemic, according to the national UFCW office.

Paul Simon, a spokesman for the union’s biggest employer, Schnucks, said the company was “undertaking similar efforts to achieve many of the same goals.”

“Grocery is an essential business and our teammates need to be treated as First Responders to ease access to services and resources,” Simon said in an email.

Parson told reporters Friday that he is considering it.

“I think we’re considering everything,” Parson said.

He said the state is concerned about the supply chain for many goods and products and wants to ensure it is secure during the pandemic.

Cook called Parson’s response “absolutely unacceptable.” Grocery store workers are on the front lines while “the general public is coming in in a frenzy.” Even in states like Illinois that have ordered residents to stay home, grocery stores are being permitted as an exception, Cook said.

Post-Dispatch reporter Kurt Erickson contributed to this report.

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