Should retailers do more to protect frontline workers?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Dec 14, 2021

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is calling on the largest retailers in the U.S. to step up and protect frontline workers as the novel coronavirus pandemic enters a new and potentially more challenging phase with cases of the Omicron variant popping up across the country.

Marc Perrone, president of UFCW International, wrote a letter to 63 chief executives at the largest retail and grocery businesses operating in the U.S., asserting that the expected surge in cases this winter makes it imperative for companies to act decisively to avoid adding to the growing totals of workers who have gotten COVID-19 and, in some cases, died.

The UFCW says that the number of cases COVID-19 among retail workers has risen 17 percent since June 2021 to 50,600. A total of 213 workers have lost their lives to the virus during that time, an 11 percent increase.

Mr. Perrone emphasized in his letter that time is of the essence. “Waiting for this pandemic to once more spiral out of control is not an option,” he wrote. “These actions must be taken now to help reduce the risk of more essential worker infections and deaths.”

The UFC has called on retailers to take five specific actions including:

  • Promoting mask wearing to cut down on transmission of the virus;
  • Providing free personal protective equipment to all workers, including masks and hand sanitizer;
  • Reestablishing social distancing measures that were relaxed as vaccinations were made available to Americans;
  • Supporting vaccinations and booster shots for workers that go beyond the government mandate to include steps such as offering paid sick leave and setting up onsite vaccine administration centers;
  • Implementing wage protection to keep workers’ pay in balance with rising food prices and other inflationary pressures.

Mr. Perrone acknowledged that “some may argue” that the measures proposed by the UFCW “are not needed at this time.” Waiting too long to act, however, would certainly lead to lost lives.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think all five actions recommended by the UFCW to protect workers are warranted at this time? How would you advise retailers to go about implementing protocols such as social distancing measures that might prove unpopular with some customers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Being a frontline worker is a brave thing to be during a time like this. We should acknowledge that bravery by supporting workers every way we can."
"These measures proposed by the UFCW are reasonable and could help secure front-line staffing as pandemic conditions evolve."
"Bravo, UFCW, for getting ahead of potential risks facing frontline workers, who have not received the credit they deserve so far."

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13 Comments on "Should retailers do more to protect frontline workers?"


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Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

If so many retailers are classified as essential businesses, doesn’t it then follow that we have to do everything we can to take care of those who keep these essential businesses operating? Plus, these people interact with hundreds or thousands of people a day. Keeping the workers safe and healthy helps keep everyone safe and healthy. Of course we should be doing everything recommended, whether these moves are popular with every shopper or not.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

COVID-19 has really shown us how much we were taking industry employees for granted. Retailers should take all of these measures to protect those that are showing up daily. Being a frontline worker is a brave thing to be during a time like this. We should acknowledge that bravery by supporting workers every way we can.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

It seems the smartest idea was missing from these recommendations. How about supporting anyone who works in retail to be required to be vaccinated with booster?

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

Keeping workers safe should be top priority for retailers as it is the right and only thing to do. If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it should be compassion combined with safety.

Keeping workers safe also means keeping workers working. We have a retail labor shortage and challenge so why not do everything we can to keep our essential staff? It would reflect badly on a retailer if they didn’t do everything they could to protect their frontline staff — and I can assure you, workers will leave and they won’t have a problem finding another role.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

These five steps represent the ante. Frontline workers have helped Americans through every wave of COVID-19. We need to do everything possible to protect them. By the way, none of the five measures are equivalent to touching your right elbow with your right hand. In the words of Nike, “Just do it.”

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

These suggestions are clear, obvious, and smart. On the other hand, a union is presenting them so — somehow — there may be a fight brewing. Our local Kroger employees have, we hear, voted to strike.

Gwen Morrison
BrainTrust

We’ve talked about how doing good is good for business. The same applies to taking care of employees – frontline and back. These are basic actions that simply makes sense. It’s good to see these COVID-19 protocols which, by the way, protect customers as well.

Keeping pace with cost of living expenses may be harder to peg, but the cost of attrition is most likely more.

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

This past year has proved that the retail industry can’t function without front-line workers. Employers are obligated to protect them. Throwing a few extra dollars at someone to be verbally or even physically abused for trying to enforce COVID protocols is not enough. These measures proposed by the UFCW are reasonable and could help secure front-line staffing as pandemic conditions evolve. The real question is, how much longer will employers go before they take meaningful action; when will they start treating front line workers like they matter?

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Bravo, UFCW, for getting ahead of potential risks facing frontline workers, who have not received the credit they deserve so far. Social distancing in the store will be challenging to enforce. Floor decals and signage, sure. But PA announcements would not be out of the question for grocers who care about their employees and customers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Let’s take them in order. “Promoting mask wearing to cut down on transmission of the virus,” is a no-brainer.

“Providing free personal protective equipment to all workers, including masks and hand sanitizer,” also seems like the least employers could offer frontline workers.

“Reestablishing social distancing measures that were relaxed as vaccinations were made available to Americans,” is also a good idea, but one that never worked well in most retail environments I was in because customers largely refused to cooperate and/or couldn’t given physical constraints.

“Supporting vaccinations and booster shots for workers that go beyond the government mandate to include steps such as offering paid sick leave and setting up onsite vaccine administration centers,” may be a stretch goal given some workers’ resistance to vaccinations.

And, finally, “Implementing wage protection to keep workers’ pay in balance with rising food prices and other inflationary pressures,” sounds like a negotiating demand, not a public health initiative. As to how to implement social distancing … good luck … I didn’t, and haven’t seen anyone doing that right.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Who ever said the pandemic was over and that safety regulations could be dismissed? Until a community reaches a very high complete vaccination rate and does not have lots of visitors, there is no reason to believe safety measures should be lifted and that workers do not need protection.

David Biernbaum
BrainTrust

All good suggestions, however, the notion that these are coming from a union causes me to wonder if this might be an introduction to actions or issues.

In all the chains I’m regularly in contact with, it seems that the private sector management teams are already doing all they possibly can to protect employees, except some do not require vaccines, because government mandates are shunned by much of the public, including store-employees.

Nonetheless, the frontline workers are taking a big risk for us each and every day, because as we know, a great many customers they come into contact with remain unvaccinated.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

According to me, there are ample COVID guidelines and vaccination in place to protect people from the wrath of the virus. We all temporarily mended ourselves to this new way of living which also clearly affected the way we shop. And it seems like these health and safety issues are going to continue. Therefore, it has become vital for retailers to come up with solid measures to safeguard shoppers’ and their frontline workers’ health concerns.

Customers are not going to want to spend excess time in the store. They will be mission-oriented in their visits to your stores. Retailers will have to make sure that their frontline workers and customers feel safe in the store. This is the only way to ensure a good shopping experience.

To accommodate the new and transformed era of retailing, retailers must now have robust technology in place, optimize store operations, and reframe policies. Retailers who understand, implement, and align with this will sail through the COVID phase with ease.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Being a frontline worker is a brave thing to be during a time like this. We should acknowledge that bravery by supporting workers every way we can."
"These measures proposed by the UFCW are reasonable and could help secure front-line staffing as pandemic conditions evolve."
"Bravo, UFCW, for getting ahead of potential risks facing frontline workers, who have not received the credit they deserve so far."

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