Safeway deal with union grants workers extra pay, protections

Stores seeing increased business, hazards due to coronavirus

A temporary union agreement with Safeway will provide its Northern California workers a pay raise and safer work environments during a period of increased business and hazards caused by the coronavirus crisis, according to the union.

Signed Sunday, the agreement applies to Safeway stores between Eureka and King City and will be revisited in 30 days, according to Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for the union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

“Local 5 members are working around the clock to assure that families have the food and supplies they need,” UFCW Local 5 President John Nunes said in a statement. “Along with health care workers they are truly First Responders during this growing crisis.”

Representing an estimated 30,000 workers in Northern California, UFCW Local 5 based the agreement on one reached around a week prior between its Seattle, Washington, branch and Albertsons Companies, which operates Safeway stores.

These agreements are among others recently enacted by grocery stores nationwide to meet a rising demand that they improve pay and conditions for their workers. The demands come as grocery store workers continue to serve customers and deal with increased foot traffic amid local and state stay-at-home orders prompted by the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Safeway will pay workers an additional $2-an-hour “appreciation” wage increase for at least two weeks, according to UFCW Local 5. The union will push to extend the raise, but an extension is not guaranteed, Araby said.

“Our associates are truly the people to thank for keeping our stores and pharmacies operating to provide an essential service for our customers and the communities we serve,” said Wendy Gutshall, a spokesperson for Northern California Safeway stores. “That is why we announced that our front-line associates will receive a temporary $2 per-hour-worked increase, above and beyond their regular hourly pay and overtime.”

The agreement will also provide more flexible schedules for working parents as they figure out changes to their schedule. It does this by expanding the scope of paid sick time so it can supplement loss of income related to changes in childcare due to school closures, Araby said.

For workers who contract the novel coronavirus or must self-quarantine in compliance with the CDC for reasons like older age or immunity issues, Safeway will grant up to two weeks of pay before the workers are required to use paid leave like sick leave, according to the union and Araby.

Araby said the agreement also requires Safeway to step up its efforts in ensuring current employees get priority on additional hours like overtime while the company hires temporary workers to keep up with heightened customer demand. However, it’s not a guarantee, Araby said.

The agreement also requires Safeway stores to implement a series of practices to assure a “safe and sanitized environment” for workers and customers, according to the union. This includes allowing employees to step away from work to wash their hands at least every hour, better enforcing 6-foot social distancing inside stores and having hand sanitizer available to all members, especially those doing checkout with customers, according to Araby.

Safeway is increasing how frequently restrooms and other “high-contact areas” of the store are cleaned and sanitized, according to the agreement.

“It’s more the awareness of what should have been done before, and the necessity to enforce those norms that should have been practiced before, with a couple more additions given the current spread of the virus,” Araby said.

The company is also temporarily suspending self-service at its food bars where items like salad, soup, donuts and bagels are sold, the agreement says.

“As we all continue to navigate through this public health crisis together, Safeway is continuing to do everything we can to prioritize the health and safety of our customers, our communities, and our associates, and to ensure our customers have access to the food, medications, and other essential goods they need at this critical time,” Gutshall said.

The UFCW is also pressuring the California government to pass a package of regulations for additional paid leave for grocery workers and free COVID-19 testing, according to the union. This proposal would also require food retailers to grant workers “access to regular hand washing, sanitary cleaners and protective gear,” along with sufficient staffing to maintain sanitary conditions.

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