The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) called for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other federal, state and local leaders to take action to stop a spike in COVID-19 cases across the nation and in Texas in a Zoom call with media Thursday.
With 1.3 million workers, the UFCW represents retail, food, meatpacking, healthcare and other essential workers, making up the largest frontline union worker in America.
UFCW President Marc Perrone announced three new initiatives to address the impact on frontline workers and while announcing the deaths of 238 workers who have died due to COVID-19; the union said nearly 29,000 members had been infected or exposed to COVID-19.
Perrone was also asked about Abbott and the state of Texas's response to COVID-19.
"The governor did not mandate masks in the state of Texas," Perrone said. "The UFCW was about to go into the state of Texas to push the mask issue with the ad [campaign].
Abbott refused to order individuals to wear masks as part of his statewide orders but said Wednesday local governments can require businesses to mandate customers and workers to wear face masks after nine mayors of some of Texas' largest cities, including Dallas's Eric Johnson, sent a bipartisan letter asking for the authority to enforce the use of face coverings.
"Ultimately, someone stood up and did the right thing to protect their citizens, and I think it's a commendable and laudable thing that happened," Perrone said.
The three initiatives to address the impact on frontline workers were reinstating hazard pay and a $15 per hour wage for all frontline workers, establishing a public mask mandate in all 50 states, including Texas, and creating a new national public registry to track all COVID-19 infections in frontline workers and require companies with more than 1,000 employees to submit monthly reports on worker infections and deaths.
The registry, Perrone said, would help keep companies like Kroger, Amazon and Walmart accountable.
"Some of our nation’s biggest companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger are still keeping us in the dark and refusing to tell the American people how many of their workers have died or been exposed to COVID-19," Perrone said.
UFCW member Candice Oglesby works at a local Kroger grocery store.
"What makes this so real is that even after months of this health threat, there is no enforcement of masks or social distancing for customers," Oglesby said on the call. "Without masks and social distancing, Kroger – and retailers like them – are playing Russian roulette with our health and lives."
Texas reported another record-high 5,551 new coronavirus cases Wednesday alongside a rate of 10.4% positive tests, its highest level since mid-April.
Oglesby said despite a recent mask mandate in Dallas, about 15% of customers still did not wear masks at her Kroger.
"I just don’t understand what changed all of a sudden for states to re-open and loosen safety restrictions, and for companies like Kroger to get rid of essential hazard pay, when the only thing I’ve seen change is the number of positive cases rise in my state," Oglesby said.
Even in areas with mask mandates, companies aren't pressing the issue if a customer comes in without a mask, Perrone said. He expressed the need for companies like Amazon and Walmart to be held responsible with a public registry for keeping frontline workers safe.
"The failure of the Trump Administration to enforce clear OSHA standards is giving giant corporations like Amazon and Walmart a free pass to ignore their responsibility to keep their workers safe and this is exactly why so many frontline workers have become exposed to this virus," Perrone said.
Last weekend, it was reported that employees at an East Dallas Walmart tested positive for coronavirus, and the store closed temporarily for deep cleaning. However, Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield declined to comment if any employees had tested positive in a statement.