Grocery store workers are on the front lines of the spreading coronavirus epidemic, and thousands have taken off work and some have died after being exposed to the respiratory illness in the U.S., according to a new report.
At least 30 supermarket employees have died as a result of COVID-19, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said in a release on Monday. Another 3,000 have called out of work after showing signs of illness or other possible coronavirus-related complications.
To make matters worse, most supermarket workers say customers aren't adhering to safety precautions, the union says.
UFCW, a food and retail union that represents over 900,000 grocery workers, surveyed 5,000 of its clients, and 85% said customers are not practicing social distancing. When asked what grocery stores should do to improve the safety and treatment of workers, 72% said limit the number of customers in stores.
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The survey and COVID-19 infection numbers don't tell the complete story. There are many chains, such as Whole Foods Markets and Trader Joe's, that aren't unionized and not represented in the data UFCW collects, as Business Insider points out.
Still, the news comes as grocers ramp up actions being taken to slow the spread of the pandemic at the supermarket.
In recent weeks, two Walmart employees in the Chicago area died from the coronavirus, prompting the retailer to adopt additional safety measures such as hiring a third-party company to clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces at the store.
Amazon is placing new grocery delivery customers on a wait list as it pushes social distancing at Whole Foods. A Whole Foods Market employee in Austin, Texas, recently tested positive for the coronavirus, according to local media.
On Monday, Kroger said four workers in Michigan died after becoming infected. The company said it would make mental health and grief counselors available and continue its efforts to safeguard workers and the public.
Workers at food packaging plants are also putting their lives on the line.
The Virginia-based pork processing company Smithfield Foods said in a release on Sunday that "numerous plants across the country have COVID-19 positive employees." The company closed its South Dakota facility until further notice.
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