Grocery Workers Fight for Workplace Safety

Frank Halstead—a TDU Co-Chair and steward in Local 572 at Ralphs distribution center in Compton, California—describes how Teamster warehouse workers are dealing with COVID-19 in the grocery warehouse industry.

Image: USDA, Flickr Creative Commons

Q: What’s your experience with the response from management?

A: Initially it was alarmingly slow. On March 2nd, we asked what contingency plans the company had and we were told “we are looking into it”. That was a sobering moment. We knew immediately we needed to prepare members to push for protections and push to be proactive not reactive. The company has since improved by getting up to speed and implementing many of the members’ ideas and suggestions.

Q: What has management provided for safety supplies?

A: An ample supply of sanitizing wipes, antiseptic towelettes, masks, spray bottles with Clean X hand sanitizer, stationary automatic hand sanitizer dispensers, vinyl gloves, knit gloves and temperature checks.

Q: What have you won at Ralphs in terms of hazard pay or other improvements?

A:  We’re getting a $2 an hour increase for five weeks and a $300 bonus. These employers are experiencing huge increases in sales—up by 30% at Kroger, which owns Ralphs—and increased profits. They are flourishing because we are risking our health and the health of others by continuing to be exposed to hundreds of people a day and handling equipment, tools and supplies used by dozens others to perform our duties at work. It’s only reasonable to compensate us fairly. Not to mention the sacrifices we make by staying away from family and friends because we fear exposing them.

Q:  What are the biggest remaining issues?

One is getting the company to suspend its No Fault Attendance Policy. Working in a perishable warehouse poses higher risks. It takes longer to recover from the normal cold and flu because of the 34/0/-20 temperatures we work in. With the current pandemic we aren’t sure if it’s a normal cold, flu or COVID-19. We need to be safe and stay home when we are feeling ill. Before COVID-19 we worked through our colds and flus. Now we are risking our health and the health of others.

Another issue is suspending production standards. Our production standards do not take into account the time needed to properly wipe down and sanitize equipment, follow CDC recommendations of 6-feet social distancing and hand washing. They also do not account for the unprecedented increases in volume, congestion and work hours during this crisis. And most importantly they do not provide consideration for individuals who are deemed by the CDC to be high risk of serious complications due to COVID-19.

This situation is ever evolving. Members need to make sure management hears them. If management doesn’t respond satisfactorily members need to organize innovative methods to make improvements. For ideas on getting organized in your workplace and fighting for a safe workplace contact TDU—we can help.

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