Grocers hiring, cautious about health

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Retailers are taking increased precautions to protect employees and new hires from illness amidst coronavirus concerns.

Throughout the state, hiring retailers include the Meijer, Kroger and Harding’s Markets chains.

John Cakmakci, the president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 951, said retailers are working to provide employees with gloves and face masks upon request, as well as sneeze guards for cashiers.

The union local, based in Grand Rapids, represents more than 33,000 workers at Kroger, Meijer, Rite Aid and other stores. 

Additionally, stores are placing X-marks in checkout lanes that illustrate the recommended 6-foot social distancing gap. Some retailers are also discouraging customers from bringing in reusable shopping bags due to concerns of spreading disease through contact.

Along with these changes, Cakmakci said retailers are looking at closing service counters in hopes of limiting the number of people going into their stores.

“They’re going to take the returns back, but just not at this time,” he said.

These changes are being implemented as stores increase hiring to keep up with rising demands for food. 

According to the National Retail Foundation, Kroger is looking to hire 10,000 additional employees nationwide.

Rachel Hurst, the corporate affairs manager for Michigan Kroger, said the company has hired more than 1,000 employees in the state since March 15 and is looking to hire about 2,000 more.

According to Cakmakci, potential new hires at Meijer and Kroger are asked screening questions. If any answers indicate a possible risk of infection, those applicants are passed over.

Regular employees are also being screened and encouraged to stay home if they experience flu-like symptoms. 

To discourage workers from coming in while experiencing symptoms, Kroger has expanded paid leave up to 14 days, the National Retail Foundation said.

The Kroger Family of Companies also announced $2 hourly bonuses for its employees. These benefits will last through April 18, according to a press release.

Despite added benefits and safety measures, many employees are still concerned about infection from customers who don’t abide by social distancing guidelines.

Meegan Holland, the vice president of communications and marketing at the Michigan Retailers Association said, “The other message that grocery stores are working hard to get out to shoppers in order to protect their workers is that grocery shopping cannot be a leisure time activity right now. 

“People need to get organized, decide on the one person that’s going to go to the store for them to represent the family, get their list together and, once they’re in the store, have minimal contact,” Holland said.

“Do the social distancing, touch only what you buy, check out and get out of there. It really should be an in-and-out visit because the less exposure, the safer everybody’s going to be,” she said.

The union’s Cakmakci said, “Because the stores are open, there are a number of customers coming in multiple times a day, and what they’re telling our clerks is they’re kind of bored. Our members are a little concerned about how many times they’re coming in because the less contact with the customers, the better.” 

Cakmakci also mentioned concerns about customers approaching employees in close quarters.

“What I’ve told our members is to make sure that you step back. If somebody’s moving up on you, remind them that there’s a 6-foot social distance policy and step away from them and they’ll finally get the hint,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re hourly, it doesn’t matter if they’re union or non-union, it doesn’t matter if they’re management. All these people are on the front line,” he said.

“You have to respect the fact that, if not for them, you might not be able to get food to your family, so please treat them as the essential workers that they are,” Cakmakci said. 

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