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David Cook: Grocery workers still on the pandemic frontlines but without hazard pay

David Cook: Grocery workers still on the pandemic frontlines but without hazard pay

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In Missouri, frontline workers are continuing to show up for our communities every single day despite the very real dangers they still face. The men and women working in your local grocery stores are exposed to potentially thousands of customers per day, putting their health at risk to serve their communities.

Without the courage of these essential workers at grocery stores, who continue to put themselves in harm’s way, our families would not have the food we need during this crisis. Given the growing risks as coronavirus cases continue to spread, it is time for the chief executives of every grocery chain in Missouri to step up and guarantee hazard pay for all of these frontline workers.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 represents more than 8,500 Missouri workers in grocery stores and many other essential businesses across the state. The members of our union know firsthand that the danger has not gone away for frontline grocery workers. Yet too many chief executives allowed hazard pay to expire months ago and showed zero interest in restoring it. The pandemic isn’t over, nor is the danger these workers face.

Just a few short months ago, grocery workers were being hailed as heroes across this country along with other frontline workers. Some companies did the right thing at that time and provided additional compensation. Most didn’t provide much and allowed it to expire.

What happened? Did grocery workers cease to be heroes? Did they wake up one day no longer frontline workers providing an essential service in a pandemic? Do grocery-chain executives with their record-breaking profits believe that workers are no longer at risk?

These men and women are not cogs in a machine. They are people with bills to pay and families to support. We can applaud them on social media, but they can’t pay bills with applause. They can’t put “thank you” in the bank. These workers continue to show up for the public — Schnucks and Dierbergs markets have experienced higher employee attendance during this crisis because their employees genuinely understand that their work is important — but the folks who sign their paychecks refuse to acknowledge their good work.

It was disappointing to see grocery chain executives in St. Louis and across Missouri raking in record profits during the pandemic and simultaneously cutting hazard pay for these brave frontline workers.

While some of these companies have taken the right steps during this time, we must also acknowledge where they have fallen short. Schnucks and Dierbergs — two St. Louis grocery chains with thousands of employees — can be applauded for moving quickly to ensure better workplace safety and enacting rigorous tracing in the event of a positive test result. The applause must fall silent when we talk about compensation.

Too many companies are treating grocery workers as expendable at a time when the pandemic danger is just as real as on Day One, and we continue to count on these essential workers to be able to put food on the table for our families. As the school year begins and many of our local schools are operating virtually, many of these grocery workers now have the added cost of child care to consider. This is a real financial burden that employers and customers are asking frontline workers to shoulder without any additional compensation.

As coronavirus cases continue to spread across Missouri and our state’s grocery workers continue to be essential to our communities, it is time for the store chains to do the right thing and use a little bit of their profits to provide strong hazard pay to the men and women who made those profits possible.

David Cook is the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, the union for 8,500 workers in grocery stores and other essential businesses serving the eastern half of Missouri.

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