LOS ANGELES – While a majority of Angelenos are now observing the “safer at home” recommendations, many workers, who are deemed “essential,” are still putting themselves on the frontline to make a living as well as to provide services to keep the rest of us going.
At a Ralphs grocery store in Koreatown, reps from the UFCW local 770 union recently handed out custom-made face masks (or coverings) for their members in an effort to address what they are saying are inadequate efforts by the store management to provide protection for their employees, and by extension, the public.
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A cashier of 17 years, Emily Alvarado says it is essential everyone feels safe at the workplace as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.
“This pandemic is very scary and we all are thinking about our health,” said Alvarado. “Coming to work every day [and then] going home is something that I never thought I'd be so nervous to do.”
The grocery workers’ union stepped in because grocery employees continue to interact with thousands of people every day, but thus far they say store management has not provided face coverings and other protective gear for their employees, told simply that they would have to provide their own.
“The first couple weeks it was mayhem in the stores,” said Alvarado. “We haven't been hit with any positive cases here. But we haven't hit the peak yet.”
Workers aren't just concerned for themselves. Most have families to think about as well, many who are elderly and might be at high risk to the virus.
“I have a four-year-old at home. I have my father [who is] 80, and my mom who's 76. I do what I can to protect myself and protect my family.”
The union is asking store management to listen to employees’ concerns and supply them with appropriate protective gear and allow them extra time for personal sanitation.
“We've gotten Ralphs to agree with the employees to wear the masks, but they have yet to provide them,” said UFCW local 770 president John Grant. “And these workers are on the frontline of danger. They're considered essential workers. But we don't think the Ralphs is considering that their health to be as essential.”
Ralphs has released a statement saying they are, among other things, working diligently to secure 18,000 masks for employees, but many wonder why the delay.
“I think they were focusing on increasing sales and not increasing protection,” added Grant. “I agree, this is something that's been unheard of but our sense is, you start with those who do the work, and then you work out afterwards after that. We are risking our lives,” said Alvarado. “For our safety, their safety, we're asking for everyone to just, you know, work safe.”
Emily Alvarado hopes the next time you take a trip to the grocery store, remember what many are risking to help keep bringing us the things we need during this difficult time.