Grocery store workers deserve respect and hazard pay | Guest column

As grocery store workers in King County, we experience the hard, cold realities of the COVID-19 pandemic every single day.

And despite the fact that our company’s revenues are up more than 20% over last year, and the fact that our CEO got compensated $28.9 million last year, and the fact that profits are more than 10 times higher than last year – despite all this extra money, early this summer our company cut the $2/hour hazard pay we had been getting since March.

While more customers have been spending more money at the grocery store, and we as workers are being asked to do more and bear the stress of a risky work environment, we are getting paid less. Where is the justice in that?

This work was hard enough even before COVID-19. Even though we helped pass one of the best minimum wage and paid sick day laws in the nation, and our negotiated union contract provides quality affordable health care and consistent raises, it is still hard for many of us to make ends meet.

And then in March, as the health crisis of COVID-19 ramped up, we started to get extra assigned responsibilities. In the case of the front end work at Albertsons, we had the additional workload of sanitizing carts between each use and also cleaning bathrooms every hour as just two examples. In the case of the Safeway Fuel Center/Mini Mart, we had all the regular challenges of a work day: re-supplying, stocking, cleaning bathrooms, running the register, taking out the trash and even sometimes putting out fires on the nearby grounds next to the station. The added stress and high turnover has made it even harder to get through the days.

How many co-workers need to get sick? How much turnover of staff needs to take place? How many days do we need to come to work and risk getting a deadly virus, then taking that home to our loved ones?

We appreciate the support of customers and the face masks worn by the vast majority. And we ask that everyone follow this example as one way to help get through this crisis. A simple mask, 6 feet of distance and some common decency can go a long way. We need management to limit the number of shoppers in the store at one time, and also enforce mask wearing if a shopper comes into the store without one and puts us all in harm’s way.

Can you imagine coming to work every day knowing that you will be in contact with 200-300 people, any one of whom could be COVID-19 positive? Can you imagine being paid less than earlier in the crisis, even though your employer is asking you to do more with oftentimes less staff — and the corporation is making huge sums of money because of the crisis itself? We can because that is exactly what is happening at Alberstons and Safeway.

We need Albertsons and Safeway to clean up their act. Honestly, earlier in the spring, they were behaving much better than now. We had more staff and were getting hazard pay. Now we have more to do and are paid less. That is wrong and it needs to change.

Kyong Barry has been with Albertsons for 18 years and is a front end supervisor in Auburn. Rico Thomas has been a clerk in the Fuel Center/Mini Mart at Safeway in Federal Way for the past 5 years. Both are active members of UFCW 21. UFCW 21 is the state’s largest private sector union with over 46,000 members working in grocery stores, health care, retail and other industries.