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Sen. Markey Asks Federal Regulators to Issue Guidance Protecting Retail Food Workers from Coronavirus

— April 9, 2020

Markey’s initiative began after he visited a supermarket and realized just how vulnerable most workers are.

Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has asked federal regulators to provide clear guidelines on how best to protect retail food workers from novel coronavirus.

According to The Washington Post, Markey’s touched on an increasingly apparent discord. Companies like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Instacart say they’ve implemented policies to shield employees from infectious disease. Supermarkets and gas stations have, for instance, installed plexiglass shields at registers. Other essential businesses have followed suit, with some retailers performing temperature checks on their employees and requiring customers to stand at least six feet apart while shopping.

However, many workers feel exploited and endangered. Amazon warehouse employees in several hard-hit regions—including Detroit and New York City—have staged protests and walkouts, charging the e-commerce giant with prioritizing its profits over their well-being.

In an effort to combat exploitation, Sen. Markey has asked the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to “issue and promote clear guidance for workers in the retail food industry and their customers.”

Markey’s definition of “essential services,” notes the Washington Post, is expansive: it doesn’t just include health care workers, transportation systems, and the post. Essential services are also provided by grocery clerks, delivery drivers, and restaurant cooks.

And all of them, says Markey, are at elevated risk for contracting novel coronavirus.

An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via
An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via

“Many of these workers have numerous close contacts with other employees, customers and the public, putting them at higher risk for coronavirus infection,” Markey wrote in his letter to the FDA and CDC. “Without the ability to conduct proper physical distancing and PPE, these workers face significant danger.”

“As we enter an extended period of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, best practices governing interactions in grocery stores and during food delivery are more important than ever,” Markey added.

Markey’s letter also suggested the danger of allowing retailers and businesses to make their own decisions.

“The [current] guidance ultimately leaves decision on the feasibility of worker protections to retail food establishments themselves,” he said. “The limited existing guidance is failing our essential workers and consumers.”

Markey, says the Washington Post, has been among a handful of legislators urging President Donald Trump to implement the Defense Production Act in its entirety.

The Defense Production Act, broadly, allows the federal government to order manufacturers to create certain items necessary for public defense and protection: in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, ventilators, masks, and other medical supplies.

But Markey recently began to appreciate the dangers low-wage earners face when he went to a supermarket himself.

“There was a woman working at the register,” Markey told the Post in a Tuesday interview. “She was just working hard, but without any protection whatsoever. I felt that she was probably more exposed than almost anyone outside our medical community to hundreds of people per day, any one of which could have coronavirus. At the same time, she or her co-workers could transmit it back to the people who are coming through that checkpoint. I said to myself, ‘This doesn’t make any sense at all.’

“These workers are risking their lives every day to provide essential goods to their customers,” Markey said. “We should be doing everything in our power to ensure these essential workers have the resources and support they need to feel safe doing their jobs.”


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Senator pushes for guidelines to keep food retail workers, consumers safe at supermarkets

United States Senate Document

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