Union Urges Grocery Retailers to Keep Mask Wearing Mandatory

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million essential food and retail workers, cautioned against the growing trend of top retailers ending mask requirements for vaccinated shoppers and employees in the wake of new CDC guidance.

UFCW is calling on the CEOs of retailers across the industry to take action to reassure the public that the majority of those in stores will still wear masks to keep shoppers and workers safe, given ongoing COVID risks and the fact there are still over 200 million Americans not fully vaccinated as the pandemic continues.

“America’s grocery workers are still facing daily COVID risks on the frontlines so that all our families can put food on the table as the pandemic continues. But, unfortunately, these essential frontline workers have been forced to play mask police throughout the pandemic, with many shoppers not following COVID safety standards. Now, they are being asked to be the vaccination police,” stated UFCW International President Marc Perrone.   

UFCW represents workers at Kroger, CVS, Albertsons, Macy’s, and other major retailers across the country.

Kroger, the largest U.S. supermarket chain, on Wednesday said fully vaccinated customers and most fully vaccinated employees will no longer be required to wear masks.

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Last Friday, Trader Joe’s became the first prominent U.S. retailer to drop its mask policies for vaccinated shoppers. The same day, Walmart said in a memo to employees that vaccinated customers can shop without masks, and Costco said in a statement that fully vaccinated members and guests can enter without face masks or face shields at their stores where the state or local jurisdiction does not have a mask mandate.

Other major retailers like Target, CVS, Meijer, Sprouts, Publix, and Gian Eagle no longer require people to wear face masks indoors if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Perrone recommended that the Department of Labor issue a temporary emergency OSHA rule that provides clear COVID workplace safety rules that are easy for companies to follow to keep workers and buyers safe.

“As the union for essential food and retail workers on the frontlines across the country, UFCW is strongly urging retailers not to add to the confusion and to assure customers that the vast majority of people in their stores will still be masked. Keeping retail mask rules in place for most people will help us protect each other and our families. Before the new CDC mask guidance, we knew that unmasked shoppers were ignoring COVID safety measures and likely unvaccinated, so we knew to keep our distance if we were concerned. Now it is virtually impossible to tell who is and is not vaccinated,” said UFCW president.

According to the UFCW press release, COVID-19 continues to threaten essential food workers nationwide. Since March 1, UFCW reports a nearly 35 percent increase in grocery worker deaths and an almost 30 percent increase in grocery workers infected or exposed following supermarket outbreaks at Whole Foods, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and other chains across the country. Among the union’s members nationwide, there have already been at least:

  • 462 frontline worker deaths and at least 93,300 frontline workers infected or exposed.
  • 184 grocery worker deaths and at least 41,700 grocery workers infected or exposed.
  • 132 meatpacking workers deaths and 22,290 meatpacking workers infected or exposed.