By Glenn Townes
glenn.townes@njurbannews.com

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to spiral out of control, New Jersey-based supermarket chain Wakefern Food Corp—the owner of the ShopRite supermarket chain–has agreed to pay retroactive hazard pay to workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), officials announced last week. The two unions represent about 50,000 ShopRite workers in the tristate region—New Jersey, New York and, Connecticut.

Officials reached an agreement after several Shop Rite workers complained that they were not receiving additional or hazard pay as front line and essential workers during a pandemic. Union representatives convinced—if not strongly suggested—to Wakefern/ShopRite officials to pay employees retroactive premium base pay of $1 per hour for all hours worked from late July 26 to mid to late August. The company also agreed to meet with UFCW and RWDSU local unions to discuss future hazard pay as the COVID-19 pandemic may precipitate some businesses’ future shutdowns, excluding designated essential places such as supermarkets. The store will pay ShopRite workers back hazard pay in a lump-sum payment in the next few weeks. In a press release, Marc Perrone, president of the UFCW, said, “Grocery workers have been on the front lines since this pandemic began and continue to put themselves in harm’s way to help families put food on this Thanksgiving. This new UFCW agreement is a decisive victory for ShopRite grocery workers in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.”

Wakefern/ShopRite has been at the center of several embarrassing and high-profile events recently. For example, several employees at its stores in New Jersey tested positive for coronavirus. An employee tested positive for hepatitis and potentially exposed dozens of workers and customers; The state of New Jersey fined the company more than $200,000 for sloppy safety violations that included exposing thousands of its pharmacy customers’ personal medical information. Earlier this year,  ShopRite terminated a longtime employee after the alleged white supremacist worker posted a series of racist, hateful, and violent messages to a former African American co-worker. The company has also been sued for discrimination.  A call to Kevin Moroney, senior vice president of human resources for comment about the allegations and new union agreement was not immediately returned. 

Lastly, Perrone of the UFCW said, “Today, UFCW grocery workers are sending a clear message to supermarket chains across the country that this pandemic is far from over. “Every CEO must do the right thing by providing hazard pay that these brave essential workers have earned and deserve as the threat from COVID-19 continues.”

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