Stop & Shop Seeks 'Emergency' Designation For Grocery Staff

By Emily Brill
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Law360 (April 27, 2020, 10:26 PM EDT) -- Stop & Shop has become the latest U.S. supermarket chain to ask the government to classify grocery store employees as "emergency personnel" during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Monday announcement by the northeastern chain and its workers' union.

Kroger, the largest American supermarket chain, and Albertsons, the second largest, have also teamed up with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to issue that call in recent weeks.

Designating grocery store workers as either "emergency personnel" or "extended first responders" is important because it would give those workers access to government resources currently reserved for first responders and medical personnel, Stop & Shop President Gordon Reid and UFCW International President Marc Perrone said Monday.

"This critical status would help ensure our state's essential grocery workers have priority access to testing, emergency childcare, and other protections to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy," Perrone and Reid said.

These protections would also include priority access to personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, Perrone said in a statement released April 14 alongside Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen.

Stop & Shop's joint announcement with the UFCW also states that the chain is extending its 10% pay raise for hourly employees through May 30.

The pay increase was first announced March 22, along with a guarantee of two weeks of paid sick leave for associates required to quarantine, the company and union said. Stop & Shop, which has roughly 60,000 employees across more than 400 stores, was exempt from the federal government's requirement for companies employing less than 500 people to provide two weeks of coronavirus-related paid sick leave.

The National Employment Law Project, which is researching grocery store workers' treatment during the pandemic, says most states have not designated grocery store workers as emergency personnel. The federal government has not either, according to NELP, and its work safety agency the Occupational Safety and Health Administration hasn't been enforcing safety standards at grocery stores.

Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont and Michigan are among the states that have deemed grocery store workers emergency personnel. This designation gives those workers access to free childcare, NELP says.

In an April 8 blog post, NELP lobbyist Shayla Thompson praised the UFCW's advocacy efforts on behalf of grocery workers, which included pushing for stores to install protective shields between cashiers and customers. Stop & Shop is among the chains that have installed those barriers, according to a late March statement from the company.

The UFCW confirmed Monday that Stop & Shop has also been giving its workers access to personal protective equipment.

--Editing by Daniel King.

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