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Local union aims to protect grocery workers

Grocery store frenzies have been on full display during this pandemic. The United Food and Commercial Workers is continuing to find ways to protect its employees and consumers.

Posted: Apr 18, 2020 7:03 PM
Updated: Apr 18, 2020 10:37 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Grocery store frenzies have been on full display during this pandemic. Items have been cleared off the shelves by crowds feeling a sense of panic. But behind all the distress, there are workers on the frontlines stocking those shelves and ringing up the people.

“In retail, the worst times are the days leading up to Christmas and Thanksgiving. Those are the busiest and most crowded periods. Except for now,” said President of the United Food and Commercial Workers 555  Dan Clay. “Now is considerably worse than any of those times.”

Given today’s circumstances, Clay is keeping the union’s best interest.

“I was in two Fred Meyer stores and one Safeway store today. What I’ve heard universally is that the general public is getting awfully close to [the workers],” said Clay.

Market capacity and customer proximity is the biggest concern right now for grocery outlets. Stores like Safeway have recently taken the next step to ensure the safety of its workers and consumers by counting the number of people going in and out of the store. No more than 376 people are allowed in at the same time.

Fred Meyer doesn’t have an employee tallying the number of people walking in and out of its doors but it has limited its capacity to 50 percent. Workers also mentioned management has implemented another safety measure starting next Monday.

“After we clock in, we need to go to the office and take our temperature,” said Fred Meyer employee Viktor Kubat. “If they feel we have a temperature, we go home. It’s a good safety factor.”

The community has taken notice of all the necessary changes.

"For people like me, I’m high risk in all three categories. So I really appreciate their efforts because they are on the frontlines too,” said Eugene resident Ron LaSalle. “It’s not just the nurses and doctors, but it's people like these that are taking care of us."

Most members of UFCW 555 have access to affordable medical insurance, according to Clay. However, for a select number of non-union operators, the rates are so expensive they choose to not take what’s offered.

“The big push at this point is making sure that essential employees are covered under worker’s compensation,” said Clay. “Because you shouldn't have to risk your life and then lose everything paying the bill for what you did at work.”

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