There has been a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among grocery store employees in San Diego and Imperial counties, according to the union that represents those workers.
UFCW Local 135 reported 24 cases at 16 stores in September and 30 cases at 26 stores in October. The number rose further in November, with 82 cases at 55 stores.
So far, as of Monday, the union is reporting 246 cases at 116 different stores for the month of December.
“It’s sad that the cases are so high. I don’t feel that everyone is doing their part,” said Diana Stewart, who has worked for Food 4 Less for almost 23 years.
According to a UFCW Local 135 spokesperson, all 11 Food 4 Less stores have had employees test positive.
Stewart feels the store’s parent company is doing the best it can to protect everyone inside the store. But she’d like to see more responsibility shown by customers and even her own co-workers.
“Everybody has to do their part on making sure they’re social distancing, wearing their masks, making sure they’re going home and not having social gatherings,” said Stewart.
To emphasize her point, Stewart says there is a COVID-19 testing site right across the street from the Food 4 Less store on Euclid Avenue. Often times, she’ll see a person get tested and then head straight to the grocery store.
“If you go get tested, stay home, don’t come in the stores. It's not fair to the workers if you think you might have COVID and then you’re coming grocery shopping. It’s just not fair,” said Stewart.
Long-time grocery store employee Patty Figueroa calls the surge in cases "alarming" and would like to see more done by the stores themselves.
“I really think they need to implement stronger, more secure measures like more cleaning crews because we can’t control the customers that come in every day. We don’t know if they’re sick,” said Figueroa, who has worked for Albertsons for 23 years.
According to the food workers union, there could be socio-economic factors tied to the surge. Many employees live in multiple-family homes. Others work several jobs, which could put them at higher risk.
The Kroger Co, which owns Ralph’s and Food 4 Less chains sent this statement to NBC 7:
“Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores and access to fresh, affordable food. We would not operate stores that are hazardous to our associates and customers, which is why we’ve invested $1.3 billion to both reward associates and to implement dozens of safety measures. We began implementing these safety measures early in the pandemic and since that time have only strengthened our vigilance and resolve,” said John Votava.
Albertsons emailed the following statement:
“As we all navigate this public health crisis together, Albertsons and Vons are doing everything we can to prioritize the health and safety of our associates, customers, and communities and to ensure our customers have access to the food, medications, and other essential goods they need at this critical time,” said Melissa Hill, Albertson’s Director, Public Affairs & Government Relations.