A Stratford Stop & Shop employee died this week from complications of COVID-19, prompting union leaders to call for grocery workers to be classified as emergency first responders.
There are reports of multiple employees sick at various stores throughout the state, including Meriden and Wallingford, said Mark Espinosa, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union 919 in Farmington.
Hundreds more are in quarantine or choosing to stay home.
“We just received information about the unfortunate death,” Espinosa said. “The employees were notified this morning.”
A Stop & Shop spokeswoman confirmed the death of the part-time worker, who had recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“All of us at Stop & Shop are deeply saddened by this news,” spokeswoman Jennifer Brogan said in a statement. “This associate was a part of our team, and this is a tremendous loss for us and for the Stratford store. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the associate’s family.”
The union has asked Stop & Shop to release the number of sick and impacted employees at its stores and hope to have an exact count soon. Local 919 and Local 371 in Norwalk represent Stop & Shop workers in the state. It is the largest unionized grocery chain in New England.
The grocery unions are also asking state lawmakers to classify grocery store workers as first responders to allow them to collect unemployment should they need to remain at home.
The following is a letter from Local 371 President Tom Wilkinson to state lawmakers:
“Grocery workers need your additional help and support. They are nervous about becoming infected and scared that they will bring it home to their families. Grocery stores remain open, and remain a lifeline for your constituents, helping to feed their families as they continue to quarantine. While supermarket management has instituted a number of safety precautions such as Plexiglas at the cash registers and signage instructing shoppers to maintain social distancing, a number of shoppers continue to ignore these warnings, getting very close to our workers as they are trying to safely perform their jobs.”
The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the union’s request.
A total of 500,000 masks were expected to be distributed to Stop & Shop workers throughout New England on Thursday. The chain has also reduced store capacity to 40 percent, and added partitions at cash registers. Stop & Shop does not close stores if workers have tested COVID-19 positive, but mandates other employees in contact self-quarantine, a statement said.
“What our associates are doing every day for our customers is incredible and their commitment inspires us every day,” the Stop & Shop statement read. “Their safety — and that of our customers — is paramount, and we will continue to implement extensive measures to help ensure that our stores and facilities are as safe as possible.”
Thousands of unionized grocery workers in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey stores and warehouses are staying home, leading to what could be a food distribution problem, Espinosa said.
“There’s gong to be a logistics issue if these employees stay home,” Espinosa said.