Grocery Clerks Are Now Emergency Personnel in Several States. California’s Workers Want In.

They’re calling for additional benefits like free child care and sanitation protections.

A stock clerk wearing gloves refills empty shelves at Whole Foods in Santa Barbara, California.Amy Katz/ZUMA

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While more than half the country’s population is now under shelter-in-place orders to fight the spread of the coronavirus, grocery and pharmacy workers are still reporting for work as essential employees. As I previously reported, Minnesota and Vermont have classified grocery workers as emergency personnel, which allows them access to free child care. Michigan is also providing child care for emergency workers, including grocery clerks. Now grocery workers are demanding that California do the same.

The California petition, launched by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, calls for Gov. Gavin Newsom to take executive action to protect grocery and pharmacy workers. The emergency protections workers are calling for include paid child care, 14 additional sick days for workers affected by COVID-19, sanitation protections like the right to wash hands every 30 minutes, and customer crowd control. A spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health wrote in an email that the department would update Mother Jones if the state issues additional guidance for these workers.

Some grocery chains have implemented new protections for workers: Kroger and Walmart, for example, are adding plexiglass partitions to protect cashiers from customer germs, and some grocery and retail outlets have also given their workers temporary raises and emergency paid sick leave. But the measures have not been consistent across the industry.

John Grant, the president of Los Angeles-based UFCW 770, said the push for the emergency personnel designation was part of a national effort “to gain a modicum of protection for those clerks who are selflessly working to hold our communities together.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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