Food supply workers and Teamsters’ representatives plan to stage protests at nearly 30 facilities and stores nationwide Wednesday to demand enhanced protections for employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the protests is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. at a CVS distribution center at 777 S. Harbor Blvd. in La Habra.
Similar actions will take place outside of some of the biggest food and beverage employers in the nation, including a Tyson processing plant in Amarillo, Texas and a Kroger warehouse in Memphis, Tenn.
The workers are calling on their employers and elected officials to keep them and the food supply chain safe with enforceable safety standards and government funding for paid sick and family leave, hazard pay and access to personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing.
Henry Cantu, a stocker at the CVS facility in La Habra, acknowledged the company has some safeguards in place, including masks, hand sanitizer — and more recently, temperature monitoring of employees. But more needs to be done.
“They have hand sanitizer throughout the warehouse, but they are not wiping down the equipment we use during the day,” the 38-year-old Fullerton resident said. “We share it with other people, and I’ll come to work and see fingerprints on it. The carts haven’t been wiped down.”
Cantu said there have been more than 20 cases of COVID-19 at the distribution center.
“They were telling us about each one in the beginning,” he said. “But once it got past 20 they stopped telling us. I guess they didn’t want us to freak out.”
Coronavirus cases have already been reported at 115 meat and poultry processing facilities across 19 states, with more than 5,000 food supply chain workers testing positive and more than 20 killed from the virus.
At least a dozen facilities have shut down in response to the outbreak. The food supply chain, which accounts for more than 20 million jobs (11% of total U.S. employment) is experiencing major shortages and is at risk of further disruptions as the pandemic continues.
“I don’t expect CVS to be making any changes,” Cantu said. “They are more of a company that needs to be forced into change. When one case broke out in the pharmacy department, they shut down the whole warehouse for sanitizing. That’s when they started to take it more seriously because they lost a couple million dollars that day.”
Teamsters at every level of the food chain — from meat and dairy processing, packing, transportation and delivery, to the country’s largest breweries, bakeries, soft drink companies and grocery chains — fear a resurgence of COVID-19 could put the food supply in danger.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents nearly 500,000 workers in the supply chain, from food processing and distribution to production, consumption and disposal.
In order to protect food workers — both unionized and nonunionized — and the country’s food supply chain, the union is calling for face shields, adjusting work practices for social distancing and free healthcare and quarantine pay to prevent outbreaks for workers impacted by COVID-19.