Scripps News Investigates

Grocery Store Chains Still Need Masks For Workers

Some grocery retailers say they are still awaiting shipment of masks to protect employees keeping Americans fed during the pandemic.

Grocery Store Chains Still Need Masks For Workers
Stephanie Liebergen / Newsy

Grocery store workers are still struggling to get masks and other personal protective equipment as they work to keep food flowing to kitchen tables during the pandemic.

More than 1,500 hundred food workers have now tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union. 

Four employees at Kroger stores in the Detroit are among grocery store workers who have died from the virus.

Kroger, the nation’s largest grocer, said it was still waiting on more shipments of masks as of last week.

“Part of the problem here is this nationwide shortage of protective equipment,” said Jonathan Williams, of the UFCW Local 400, representing workers in and around Washington, D.C.

Retailers contacted by Newsy said they are suffering from the same shortage of protective supplies affecting health care workers. 

Harris Teeter said its first shipment of masks arrived on Friday, though more orders have yet to ship out. 

Also Friday, Walmart said it finally received enough masks for all employees.

Wegmans said it already had enough masks for employees.

Only Trader Joe's mentioned trying to get more than one mask per associate, now working to get at least two.

According to the Washington Post, in the past month there has been a 60 percent increase in job postings for grocery clerks.

The commercial food workers union wants authorities to temporarily classify grocery workers as first responders. 

That might put them at the front of the line to get much more protective equipment when it becomes available.

“Without adequate personal protection, they’re at risk,” Williams said. “Not only at risk themselves for contracting this disease but potentially at risk of spreading this disease.”

The group has also asked the CDC to make masks a requirement for grocery store staff.

The retailers told Newsy when masks are not available, employees can bring or make their own.

The food workers union says that’s no substitute for FDA approved personal protective equipment.