By ERNIE GOTTA
Workers and community members of the Connecticut Workers Crisis Response (CWCR) rallied Friday night, Dec. 11, outside the grocery chain outlet Stop and Shop in Bridgeport and Groton, Conn. The demonstrators demanded hazard pay, PPE, and deep cleaning of the premises. The Bridgeport action was also endorsed by the Bridgeport Democratic Socialists of America.
Mateo, a new member of CWCR, organized the Groton action. He said, “Our picket line in Groton had about 10 younger people. At first we clustered together to the side, hesitant to flyer, but over time we got quite a few “thank you’s” from off-shift workers. Then feeling confident, we spread out and set up at three locations outside the store. We spoke with customers who worked as nurses, or in industry at Electric Boat, who supported our demands. We also spoke with Stop and Shop workers getting off shift and listened to their pandemic horror stories.”
Reggy, a member of the Bridgeport DSA, said, “Solidarity not charity! I’m looking to work toward a world where what we’re doing is just the norm. I’m just helping people unable to use their own voice to fight for themselves. It’s just a continuation of the Bridgeport way.”
The picket lines highlighted what has been an ongoing fight for hazard pay and safer working conditions since the start of the pandemic. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) was unable to participate in the actions due to their union contract with the company. The union represents 1.3 million grocery store workers across the country and stated in September that since the start of the pandemic at least 103 union grocery workers in the U.S. have died and 17,000 have been infected.
The exact numbers of victims aren’t yet known in Connecticut, but we do see the risk for infection and death growing. Per capita the state ranks first nationally for COVID infection rates. New data shows an uptick during the second wave of 2,280 per one million people infected.
The CWCR actions come at time when the UFCW is reaching hazard pay and safety agreements with grocery chains like Shoprite and Stater Bros. Meanwhile, Ahold Delhaize, the Netherlands-based company that owns Stop and Shop, has seen a surge in profits this year. Supermarket News reports: “For the quarter ended June 28, net sales at Ahold Delhaize USA surged 18.7% to $13.04 billion from $10.99 billion a year earlier. … Comparable-store sales climbed 18.8% and were up 20.6% excluding fuel. Online sales jumped 126.8% to $564 million from $249 million a year ago.”
Compared with their billion-dollar earnings, Stop and Shop has spent a sparse $121 million to mitigate the effects of COVID on their workers. No doubt the company can afford a much larger cash infusion to create a safe work environment. Studies show that deep cleaning does not go far enough to alleviate the danger. For example, a South Korean study shows that it’s possible to become infected after only five minutes from 20 feet away while indoors.
With an estimated 40% of COVID cases asymptomatic, the risk will only continue to grow for workers and customers. New reports find that quality ventilation is key to limiting risks. This means it is necessary to have an exchange of fresh outside air that can dilute and limit the virus load inside.
Getting companies to open up their pockets and implement the safe conditions is an uphill battle that will take a mass fightback of organized and unorganized workers, their supporters, friends, and families. The actions organized by CWCR around Stop and Shop are a small but important step in that direction.