Protecting Grocery Store Workers From the Coronavirus

Relying on customers to adhere to social distancing rules in stores is proving to be a challenge

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Grocery stores are hiring thousands of employees across the country to keep up with the rising demand from customers. These employees are on the front lines during this health crisis, putting themselves at risk of being infected. 

There is no work from home option for grocery store employees.

At Stop & Shop, where they have seen the two biggest sales weeks in the history of the company this month, the president says worker safety is a top priority. 

“We increased cleaning routines in the stores [and] brought in a third party cleaner for every single store, working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at night,” Stop & Shop President Gordon Reid said.

Stop & Shop is rotating staff regularly, so they can wash hands on a regular basis. It's supplying gloves and other things people would want to have. The company has installed plexiglass visors and marked off six-foot distances at all check-out lanes. Their pharmacists are now wearing face visors. 

It's also given employees a 10% pay raise through May 2 and is providing extra sick leave coverage and job security for employees who aren't able to work right now.   

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The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 President, which represents 8,000 Stop & Shop workers, wants crowd control as well. 

“We want the governor to make it a requirement for supermarkets to limit the number of people going into the stores at one time to lower the risk of our members,” Union President Fernando Lemus said.

We reached out to Gov. Baker's office about the request but didn't hear back. However, on Wednesday afternoon, the Baker administration announced a new order affecting grocery stores that would require they mark off a “Social Distancing Line” six feet from the counter and to offer, if available, cleaning options like disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer to clean shopping carts and other places that are frequently contacted.

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Relying on customers to adhere to social distancing rules in stores is proving to be a challenge. 

Roche Brothers said it is doing hourly store announcements to remind everyone about social distancing. A company spokesperson said, "We are doing our best to institute guidelines as fast as we can, but we desperately need the public to also do their part in practicing social distancing."

Shaw’s and Star Market also said they are reminding customers to remain six feet apart -- essentially two shopping carts. A spokesman for the chains said, "We are constantly looking for solutions to help us improve this practice in our stores."

Stores and union representatives say they will continue to look at safety measures daily. 

“Our associates have been amazing and they deserve all the praise that can possibly be given to them,” said Gordon Reid. “They are on the front lines and we need to make sure we're looking after them and that's what we're doing.”  

There are other changes at local stores. Most don't want to handle your reusable bags right now, so if you bring them, go through the self-checkout stations where you bag your own things. Some have closed service departments, suspended lottery sales and have stopped taking bottle returns right now in an effort to keep their employees safe. 

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