The last few months have proven to be very trying on all of us. However, working in a supermarket during the COVID-19 pandemic became one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in an instant. Having to constantly wear a mask while you are working is extremely frustrating. It is hard to be understood when you are speaking, and many people find it hard to breathe with a mask on. Unfortunately, people must choose to be inconvenienced and uncomfortable, over risking their health.
The nation’s handling of this health crisis has changed direction rapidly and frequently over the course of a short period of time. Following guidelines, we’ve all gone from “wearing a mask will not help”, so its discouraged…to a nationwide shortage of masks…to being mandated to wear a mask when socially distancing is not possible…to a no mask, no service policy for supermarkets. That is a complete shift in thought in just about a month’s time, and we’ve all had to follow along.
Toward the end of March, when the shift to wearing masks was happening, everyone scrambled to secure masks for their families, their employees, or themselves. This made it very difficult to acquire any number of masks. We heard many stories about FEMA seizing masks as they arrived in the country that were ordered by others. Early on it seemed like the thought of getting our hands on some was becoming impossible. Nevertheless, Local 1500 reached out to elected officials throughout our jurisdiction and asked for help getting masks for our members. Through the tireless work of our lobbyists and our staff, we were able to secure over 35,000 masks within the first few weeks of the state shutdown. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the offices of Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, Senator Michael Gianaris, Nassau County Asian American Affairs, The Hamza Masjid Ladies Wing, and Herricks Muslim Families, for jumping into action and not hesitating to donate masks to protect our members. As soon as we got them, our Reps headed out to the stores to give them out. Once masks became more available, we purchased another 30,000 of them and our Representatives continue to give them out during their store visits.
On another front, we reached out to the Governor’s office for some help getting Personal Protective Equipment for our members. They sent a trailer full (26 pallets) of gallon-sized hand sanitizer to our office, which we all know was impossible to get for quite some time. We flooded the stores with the sanitizer, and I am sure you have seen multiple gallons in your store. Let us know if you need more and we will get it to your store as soon as possible, while we still have some. After a couple more phone calls, a few days later the Governor sent another smaller trailer load (19 pallets), this time with personal use, 2oz bottles of hand sanitizer. The sanitizer is the same in the gallons we distributed as in the 2 oz bottles so they can be refilled and used over and over. Everyday our Representatives are giving them out to you in the stores. These extremely generous donations came at a critical time for our members, when supplies of these items were depleted and extremely difficult to get. We also want to thank the office of Governor Cuomo for these substantial lifesaving gifts.
We have also reached out to elected officials for their help with enforcing mandates that would: lower customer counts; insist on social distancing inside your stores; all customers wearing masks; and exposing customers for just throwing their gloves and other PPE on the ground in the parking lots, just to name a few. We have given officials lists of problematic stores regarding these complaints. It’s bad enough that our members have been forced onto the front lines of this crisis, the least that can happen is that our customers don’t put you even more at risk because you had to handle their PPE garbage. We are seeking to work together with your employers and all local governments to ensure our members are as protected as possible.
During the past few months, we have also worked with Legislators to find additional ways to protect our members and other essential workers. We have come out in support of multiple pieces of legislation that support and further benefit grocery employees. This legislation is geared at enforceable measures that will ensure essential front-line workers, just like yourselves, are more protected under the law. There is a clear necessity to ensure that, whether Union or non-Union, the idea of choosing to do the right thing is never left as an option to any employer. If we’re going to have a chance to beat the spread of the Coronavirus, then there must be a structure in place to create a path to a safer environment. The one thing we can promise, is that our Union will make sure that the members of Local 1500 have a voice and that all your concerns are considered while making Legislative changes in the workplace.
There has been no shortage of obstacles in 2020. The bottom line is, whatever is thrown your way, our main objective will always be to work very hard to come up with solutions to help and protect the members of Local 1500. Invariably, we share the same concerns, and throughout all our communications, whenever we inform the membership about a change, members routinely ask, “what about my Company?” Lately negotiations have taken on a new form—what used to be bargaining with your companies every few years, has now turned into negotiating every month, week, or even daily. Please remember, just like your contracts, these agreements expire on different dates, and get negotiated at different times. Different companies have independent clauses or benefits that typically need to be handled separately from each other. We may be able to work something out quickly with one company, but it may take more time to resolve it with another. Some companies are smaller owner operated chains, some are larger regional employers, while others belong to large cooperatives, which means we need different approaches to accomplish the same thing and also means that the results we get back may arrive at different times. That does not mean that when we announce we have achieved something with one company, we weren’t able to achieve it with another. It might just be that your company is on a different timeline than some others. Rest assured that we are fighting for all of you every day, every week, so we ask that you continue to be patient.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the unexpected can happen. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your understanding and patience as we try to help you navigate through this storm safely. The great members of Local 1500, and all grocery workers, continue to prove how necessary their skills are by ensuring their communities have everything they need for themselves and their families. Thank you very much for all of your hard work and stay safe!
Aly Y. Waddy - Secretary Treasurer
The Register Summer 2020