Amid call for first responder status, working during pandemic ‘tough’ on grocery workers

Giant worker Dave Bracken thinks grocery store workers should be considered first responders, so they can get access to early population testing and benefits like child care. (Courtesy Dave Bracken)

A longtime D.C. grocery store employee said it has been tough both mentally and physically for his co-workers as they continue to fill the needs of shoppers during the coronavirus outbreak. And  now, their union wants them to be designated as first responders.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents grocery store workers in the D.C. region, said grocery store workers should be classified as first responders during the pandemic. It said they should be classified that way so they can be tested for COVID-19 and protect themselves.

Grocery store workers are deemed essential by several state and local governments across the U.S. In Maryland, their essential status allows them some benefits, such as access to free child care.

“They take mass transit, a lot of them; their kids are not going to school so that creates issues,” said Dave Bracken, who has worked at the Giant on Alabama Avenue for 17 years.

Bracken, who arrives at 4 a.m. to work each day unloading delivery trucks, thinks that grocery store workers should be designated as first responders in the city.

“We’re still working just like all the other essential employees,” he said.

Two D.C. Council members, including Vincent Gray, who represents Ward 7 and oversees D.C.’s health committee, asked Mayor Muriel Bowser three times during a news conference Friday whether she would declare grocery, pharmacy and food processing workers as first responders.

Bowser said she would look into it.

“The commitment I made to Council member Gray is to see if our modelers can see if another group of nongovernment essential personnel could be fit onto that list and how we could help prioritize that,” Bowser said.

She also said she plans to continue to provide the personal protective gear to first responders and health care workers first.

The union said Bowser’s response missed the mark. It also said it has never asked the mayor to skip over health care workers or in any way deny them valuable personal protection.

“However, a shortage of PPE should not be an excuse to delay designating grocery store workers as first responders now, so that they can have access to District-provided testing sites, which are currently restricted to health care workers, first responders and high-risk residents. Grocery workers on the front lines of this crisis need this testing now, and there is no reason to delay,” union spokesman Jonathan Williams said.

The union also wants Bowser to limit the number of shoppers that can be inside a grocery store at a time, so that grocery store staff can maintain the distance of at least 6 feet from customers.

WTOP’s John Domen contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus News

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up