Give all grocery and pharmacy workers First Responder status
Photos of grocery store workers

UFCW Local 1059, the union representing 18,000 grocery and food distribution workers throughout Ohio, is asking Governor Mike DeWine to designate their members as First Responders during the pandemic.

“We have sent a letter to Governor DeWine and want him to reclassify our UFCW members as First Responders,” says Randy Quickel, President of UFCW Local 1059, based in Columbus. “What that would do is give them the ability for free childcare and the ability, if indeed there are gloves and masks, give them gloves and masks. Right now, we don’t have a lot of that accessible.”

Gov. DeWine has said the state will open emergency childcare centers for “essential service” workers. But he hasn’t clarified whether this will include grocery store workers.

Minnesota and Vermont designated grocery store workers “emergency personnel” earlier this week, meaning they will receive free childcare.

Quickel also told the Free Press that Kroger, Meijer, other grocery stores, food processing plants, and food warehouses, should immediately increase wages during this time.

“I don’t know the exact amount at this time but at this point in time I feel the membership is under great duress,” he says. “Under this stressful time that the companies, all of them, should look at their employees and our members and show respect, and give them a higher wage.”

As the crush of customers invaded grocery stores over the previous two weeks the realization the stores could become zones of community spread sent a chill through the ranks. Their concerns soon played out on Reddit community boarddedicated to local issues.

“Happy to still have a job but also nervous to keep going to work every day and exposing myself. Kind of just coming to terms with the fact that myself and coworkers will undoubtedly get this virus,” wrote one Kroger employee.

“We are trying. Please stop yelling at us. Please stop cussing at us. Please stop taking things from people’s cart when they’re not looking,” wrote another Kroger employee. “I’m sorry I’m the 5th store you've been to and I don’t have your Cage Free String Cheese or Grass-fed Oysters. Please remember, after we feed you with everything we have, we have to find groceries ourselves. We’re really trying.”

“Our night stock has been running full throttle, almost seven days a week for the last two weeks. We’re in everyday, stocking, cleaning, adjusting, sanitizing. Every day we try to figure out what we can afford to NOT order because no one wants it, and what I need no matter what.”

It’s not just grocery workers: “I’m a Kroger pharmacy tech – our supply lines are fine. The medicines are not going to run out. You don’t need to pay out of pocket to fill three month’s worth of medication right now. And when you do, it may mean that someone who is genuinely out of medication today has to wait a day or two. Please be kind.”

Even if Governor DeWine were to drop the ball and not give grocery store workers First Responder status for whatever reasons, the reality is, they already are.

“I never thought those of us in this industry would end up being First Responders,” said another Kroger employee.