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Help On The Front Lines: Grocery Store Workers Seek Executive Order To Aid Coronavirus Fight

grocery store supermarket
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public Radio
Shoppers walk past empty fresh chicken coolers at ShopRite in Canton on March 13, 2020 in Canton, Connecticut, two days after the World Health Organization characterized the spread of novel Coronavirus a pandemic.

Grocery store workers want help from the state to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces.

They’re asking the governor to label them ‘front line workers’, a move that would help them blunt the impact of the coronavirus.

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These employees were deemed ‘essential’ when back in March, Governor Ned Lamont shut down many businesses to encourage physical distancing.
“Don’t open your retail store unless you’re involved in some essential service like food -- grocery stores -- or healthcare as in pharmacies, fuel as in gas stations – I want to see all the rest of those non-essential services close…” said Lamont at a March 20 public health briefing.

But the workers say the ability to continue working may not be enough for some if the governor can’t take it a step further and offer them some of the same protections given to staff in medical facilities.

Juliette Sabo, a Stop & Shop employee for 40 years, is currently in charge of pricing at a Fairfield location. She was in the middle of working 30 days out of a 31-day stretch as the events of the pandemic unfolded.

“There was no going home,” Sabo said.

She pitched in to meet what she said was an ‘unbelievable’ consumer demand -- until Sabo got COVID-19.

“This is a truly horrible thing I’m going through – and something I thought would never happen,” Sabo said.

Sabo developed a fever and an incessant cough.

“Now, it’s been two nights in a row that I can’t really sleep and I’m up for hours because I’m just coughing…” Sabo said when she was interviewed on April 15.

On top of having COVID-19, she said she developed shingles on the left side of her face. During her quarantine, she advocated on behalf of her fellow colleagues still working in the store by sharing a letter she wrote about her experience.

“Number one for me what I think of is all the single moms that need daycare for their kids and a lot of people are out of work because they just don’t have someone to watch their kids,” Sabo said.

In addition to free childcare, a local representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers union said that if grocery store employees are designated front line workers, they’d access free testing, personal protective equipment, and free treatment.

Governor Lamont’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The governor did do something recently that could help grocery store employees in their fight against the spread of coronavirus. He signed an executive order requiring state residents to wear cloth face masks in public places.

Stop & Shop said in order to comply with the law, it’s had stores put signs up at entrances and asked them to alert customers about the requirement via public address announcements.

“Previous to this, effective April 16 Stop & Shop has required all associates to wear face coverings while at work,” a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop said. “Face coverings, as well as gloves, have been provided to all Stop & Shop associates”

About a week after her interview, Sabo told Connecticut Public Radio she had recovered from COVID-19 and that she was medically cleared to return to work.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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