Kroger's Big Move During The Pandemic Has Everyone Talking

Kroger is among numerous national supermarket chains that have implemented measures to enforce social distancing in order to keep both shoppers and frontline staff safe amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. But now Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S., is calling on federal and state officials to designate supermarket workers as "extended first responders" or "emergency personnel."

With restaurants limited to delivery and takeout (or completely shut down) during the pandemic, there has been added pressure on grocery stores — deemed essential businesses — to feed and supply crowds of Americans, who up until recently have gotten half their food outside of stores (via USA Today). While this has secured jobs for supermarket workers, it has also increased their exposure to the virus.

Kroger's announcement comes after the news of four of its workers passing away due to infection and illness from COVID-19. Employees at Kroger locations in Indiana have also fallen ill. The supermarket chain is putting its foot down on behalf of the 460,000 workers it employs across nearly 2,800 stores nationwide, and joining forces with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to push governments to make the status change.

Why did Kroger make this big move?

The goal behind getting supermarket staff recognized as temporary first responders or emergency personnel is to provide them with higher priority for coronavirus testing and access to protective gear, such as masks and gloves. Stores have struggled to obtain a steady supply of masks due to shortages, which have also affected healthcare workers and other first responders.

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen and UFCW International President Marc Perrone urged federal and state leaders to take immediate action, citing the "significant daily risk" that grocery store workers endure in their statement. The UFCW has also pointed out that in contrast to traditional first responders, grocery workers did not agree to risk their lives and work on the frontlines during a time of crisis (via NPR).

Why it's so important for grocery workers to be recognized as first responders

McMullen and Perrone further explained why this designation is so urgent and so important, noting that it isn't just about protecting workers, but customers, too. "This urgent call for temporary first responder or emergency personnel status is not just about protecting grocery store workers; it is also about protecting the customers they serve and our nation's food supply in general. We urge our national and statewide elected leaders to act now and protect these essential workers," the statement reads.

Kroger is now the second major supermarket chain to push government officials to put this status change into action. Albertsons also partnered with the UFCW earlier this month to release a statement with the same request (via Business Insider). Federal and state governments have yet to respond but supermarkets hope they will quickly act so grocery workers can gain better protection during this unprecedented crisis.