Though Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has not responded to calls to designate food workers and pharmacy techs as emergency first responders, the largest grocery companies in the St. Louis region are offering bonuses for their workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Schnucks bonuses will be determined by job classification and will be issued no later than April Dierbergs will calculate bonuses based on hours worked between March 16 and April 26. Dierbergs will pay a $2/hour premium on all hours worked under 40 per week, and $3/hour for hours worked in excess of 40 per week during that time, and will issue bonuses in May. Straubs also just announced a $2/hour adjustment.
“Our largest employers, Schnucks, Dierbergs, and Straubs, have been working with us to expand benefits and make changes to the workplace to enhance their safety,” said David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, which represents more than 9,000 workers, primarily in the grocery industry. “The steps to increase compensation are greatly appreciated and absolutely deserved for these hard-working heroes.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery workers face unprecedented levels of work, including longer shifts and a deluge of customers – and unprecedented risk. The social distancing guideline of remaining six feet away from others to avoid possible transmission of the highly infectious novel coronavirus is scarcely possible for most food service workers. Their risk of infection is high.
“You can’t be around that many people in the general public and not contract it,” Cook told St. Louis Public Radio. “It’s going to happen.”
The union has enacted its own protective measures, including expanding its benefits package. Members who become infected with COVID-19 will now have higher short-term disability benefits and maintain 90 percent of their current pay, St. Louis Public Radio reported.
“I don't think any of us thought that our jobs would be as important as they are today,” Cook told St. Louis Public Radio. “Why would you not do everything in your power immediately to protect the people that are supplying the food chain to your state?”
That is why Cook and the workers the union represents find Parson’s lack of recognition and protection cowardly.
“I wish the governor would show the same courage and leadership as my members and these employers,” Cook said. “Everyone recognizes how hard these people are working and how essential they are to our society right now – except, apparently, our own governor.”