The request is simple, says Melanie Bartholf, political director and service director of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473, recognizing the work of grocery store employees during this pandemic should be a given, not a fight.

“Grocery stores are one of the most important businesses in society, and this crisis has really shown that,” Bartholf told the Wisconsin Examiner. “Our members are on the front lines. They are interacting with customers regularly. They cannot get away from there. They are at higher risk than the average person of getting this disease, because they are working daily with a high level of contact with the public.”

While grocery store employees have been technically classified as essential workers by the state government, Bartholf is asking that their work is defined as “first responders” so that they qualify for benefits that are offered to other workers in that category, including access to free child care during work shifts.

The Safer-at-Home order classifying grocery workers as essential doesn’t focus at all on the issues that grocery workers are raising, Bartholf told the outlet.
She explains that “…this executive order naming grocery stores as essential allows stores to stay open and allows our members to leave their homes and travel freely to and from work. It does not do anything else for them or make any additional state benefits available to them. That’s why it’s not enough simply that our members are working in essential industries.”

The union represents about 5,000 grocery store employees and another 5,000 food processing workers in Wisconsin; grocery stores across the state employ more than 75,000 people, according to the Wisconsin Grocers Association.

Read more about the effort to classify grocery store employees as first responders in Wisconsin here.