Hy-Vee last week resisted calls for face-covering requirements, instead implementing today an educational campaign that includes distributing 3 million free masks to customers. Top labor union officials and Iowa activists are continuing to call for stricter policies.
The retailer last Tuesday announced they’d station employees at the front doors of all stores to offer masks to customers who are not wearing one prior to shopping. The United Food and Commercial Workers labor union International President Marc Perrone said the West Des Moines-based midwestern supermarket chain’s “Mask It Up To Shut COVID Down. It’s Your Choice” initiative, which does not mandate the CDC’s recommendation to wear masks in public, is “a PR stunt.”
“Hy-Vee handing out masks is not a solution, it’s a PR stunt,” said Perrone. “As the CDC has said, and the UFCW has stressed for months, public mask mandates are the only way we can protect lives and stop the spread of this killer virus.”
UFCW, the union for 1.3 million workers, including more than 10,700 Iowa workers in grocery stores and other essential businesses, joins groups like Iowa Educators for a Safe Return to School who have for weeks been pressuring Hy-Vee’s CEO Randy Edeker to require masks for shoppers.
“Hy-Vee’s refusal to mandate masks for customers, even as COVID-19 cases skyrocket, will cost American lives – it’s that simple. Hy-Vee CEO Randy Edeker is failing the company’s workers and customers, and this policy is the epitome of irresponsibility,” said Perrone. “They may not have noticed, but we are in the middle of a pandemic that has already cost the lives of 140,000 Americans, with thousands more getting sick every day.”
In a national poll of UFCW members, nearly half of workers said they are more concerned now than they were two weeks ago of the virus, and more than half worry about bringing COVID-19 home.
The poll, released July 17, supplemented calls from US Senators Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren for top grocery and retail companies to reinstate hazard pay for frontline workers and implement CDC recommendations for workplace safety for the duration of the pandemic.
“The next coronavirus relief package must include my Essential Workers Bill of Rights to guarantee [hazard pay for essential workers] and a whole suite of benefits and protections like enforceable health and safety protections, universal paid sick leave and family leave, and child care,” said Warren, who signed a letter along with 15 top grocery chain CEOs and lawmakers, including Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tammy Duckworth and Cory Booker.
Large national retailers like Walmart, Target, Kroger, CVS and Walgreens have recently implemented the orders at all their stores following encouragement from the National Retail Federation. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds has not made any statewide declarations for facial coverings and has instead prohibited local municipalities from passing their own mask mandates.
“With nearly 100 grocery workers already killed by COVID-19 and more than 12,000 workers infected or exposed, it is outrageous that any company would fail to implement the same common-sense customer mask requirement that Walmart and Kroger announced last week,” said Perrone.
Over half of the country’s forty largest retailers, including many grocery store chains, have implemented facial covering policies for their shoppers according to a report released by AARP last week. But recent reports found that some of those retailers, including Walmart and CVS, said they will continue to serve customers who are not wearing masks, even with their mandates. A number of the stores are instead providing free masks, similar to the policies of Hy-Vee.
“A number of major retailers are now following our lead. This is not a publicity stunt. Instead of saying something, we are actually doing something about it,” said Hy-Vee vice president of communications Tina Potthoff.
by Isabella Murray
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