UFCW 770 fights to protect members and others as Los Angeles adapts to the pandemic.

Grocery store workers across the country have found themselves in an unexpected and vulnerable position: at the frontlines of a global pandemic. As panicked customers crowded grocery stores, often without protective gear or adhering to social distancing guidelines, their employers largely failed to address the threat of contagion. In Los Angeles County, the members of UFCW Local 770, in partnership with food delivery platform workers, have spent the past few weeks successfully urging officials to ensure greater health and safety provisions for all non-medical essential workers.

In late March, LA City Council passed an ordinance which, among other things, required grocery stores, pharmacies, and delivery platforms to accommodate requests for schedule changes related to COVID-19 care and to protect the hours of current employees. On April 7, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive order expanding protections to include mandatory hand washing, personal protective equipment, and crowd control inside city grocery stores and pharmacies. 

Earlier this week, the LA County Board of Supervisors followed suit with an ordinance requiring grocery stores and pharmacies to sanitize and stock all bathrooms with necessary supplies, clean stores and shopping carts between uses, require employees to wash their hands every 30 minutes, provide sanitizing stations at the entrance of all stores, provide adequate security to enforce social distancing, and establish operating hours to restock. The ordinance also prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their rights to these measures. Yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order providing two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave for food sector workers affected by COVID-19, and raising health and safety standards for workers at food facilities.

“When we set out to achieve stronger protections for our members, our goals seemed almost radical. Passing such sweeping health and safety measures typically takes years, not weeks,” said UFCW 770 Deputy Political and Civil Rights Director Rachel Torres. “As the community began to understand what’s at stake and see the essential work grocery workers do, so too did our elected leaders. The next steps for us now are public education and enforcement.”

Underlying the fight for higher safety standards for delivery platform workers is resistance from employers to recognize them as employees, in accordance with state law, and take responsibility for their working conditions. Separately, some grocers have used force majeure language in the union’s contract to hire non-union temporary employees, which could weaken their collective power at a time when workers need it the most.

Asked how writers can show solidarity with grocery store workers, Torres stressed the importance of understanding and following local health and safety mandates: wear a mask when you shop, expect to wait in line before entering the store, try not to linger, and practice social distancing at checkout. Finally, be patient with workers if you have challenges finding an item or getting help.

Looking to get more involved with UFCW 770’s fight to protect grocery store, pharmacy, and food delivery workers? Contact Torres directly to learn how.