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Push to Classify Grocery Workers as First Responders After IL Deaths

A family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee who died from COVID-19 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. (Adobe Stock)
A family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee who died from COVID-19 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. (Adobe Stock)
April 8, 2020

CHICAGO -- Major grocery chains are reporting their first coronavirus-related employee deaths, which include two at a Chicago-area Walmart. Although Walmart employees are not represented by a union, a union representative said these deaths could have been prevented if governors would declare grocery workers "first responders."

The "first responder" designation would ensure that, as front-line workers, they receive testing and other essential preventive measures, said Jonathan Williams, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400.

"We are prioritizing access to testing and achieving this 'first responder' status because this isn't like a hurricane or an earthquake, you know," he said. "We're experiencing a different kind of emergency right now. That means we need to recognize a different kind of first responder."

A wrongful-death lawsuit for the family of the Evergreen Park Walmart employee, Wando Evans, was filed this week. It alleges managers ignored Evans' COVID-19 symptoms and failed to notify other workers that their colleague may have contracted the virus.

Williams said he believes that if supermarket workers are putting their lives on the line, they should at the very least be making a living wage. He said his union also is pushing grocery chains to provide hazard pay to employees.

"We feel strongly that if anyone is on the front lines of this crisis and continuing to work," he said, "then they deserve to be compensated for the risk that they are putting themselves in, and their families."

He said his union also is demanding stores take more safety measures to protect employees. Starting this week, Kroger is limiting the number of customers to 50% of a store's capacity, and will check the temperature of every employee before work.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - IL