The Mid-Valley Industrial Workers of the World issued a statement on Sep.20 claiming a Corvallis Fred Meyer employee tested positive for the coronavirus, but the news was kept quiet when it came to informing other workers.
“The health of essential workers is the health of us all,” the Mid-Valley IWW press release said.
The Mid-Valley IWW said the news of a positive COVID-19 case among Fred Meyer staff was not announced by management, but instead was quietly passed along by a department lead to other employees. One of them then reportedly informed the union. It was not disclosed which departments might have been exposed to the allegedly coronavirus-positive employee.
According to the Mid-Valley IWW, the Fred Meyer employee who informed the union saw management taking strict public health precautions for the first time in months just before hearing of the positive case. The press release also alleged that management had just reinstated social-distancing standards in the employee break room and basic sanitation standards across several store departments.
“The Mid-Valley branch of the Industrial Workers of the World believe that all workers deserve safety and respect
in their workplace,” the press release said. “The global coronavirus pandemic requires that everyone take seriously public health measures, with those working in essential services needing the most protection—protection for the workers is protection for the public.
Citing fear of retaliation, a spokesman for the IWW declined to identify the Fred Meyer employee who alleged management tried to keep a lid on the coronavirus case, but did confirm the employee is a member of the union. The spokesman called it a precarious situation that is further compounded by the pandemic, in which job security has become even more vital.
“Our members discuss work problems with each other pretty frequently. We’re here to provide support to workers in any way that we can; sometimes this just involves listening and emotional support, and sometimes we feel direct action is warranted,” the spokesman said. “This grievance represented a significant risk to worker and public health, so we decided to reach out to press.”
The spokesman noted that although the union has not received any previous reports regarding the health and safety conditions at Corvallis Fred Meyer, failures to follow basic COVID-19 precautions is a familiar story in recent months. A recent campaign titled #AlwaysEssential aimed at bringing attention to a lack of basic health in precautions in workplaces.
“We believe that taking basic health and safety precautions is the most barebones requisite in providing an acceptable environment for workers,” the spokesman said. “The fact that Corvallis Fred Meyer was for a time not even willing to do this suggests that they do not value the safety of their workers, or even their customers. We also believe that corporations like Kroger value profit over all else, and the safety of their workers is secondary to this goal. This is unacceptable.”
The IWW suggested the following guideline for all essential businesses for the duration of the pandemic: hazard pay of $2 an hour and mask-wearing enforcement, social distancing, and limited occupancy, employer-provided personal protective equipment, two weeks paid sick time for self-quarantine, and no retaliation for wearing “Always Essentials, Black Lives Matter, union, pro-worker and social justice messaging.”
The media contact for Corvallis Fred Meyer did not respond to requests for comment. A regional Fred Meyer spokesman did not respond to questions regarding COVID-19 at the Corvallis location.
UPDATE Oct. 10
Fred Meyer responded to a request for comment after this report was published. An interview was declined, but a statement was issued via email from Director of Corporate Affairs Jeffery Temple, who said the health and safety of customers and associates is a top priority.
Temple said when Fred Meyer learns of an associate testing positive for COVID-19, the employee is supported with emergency paid leave. He said store leadership is informed of the positive test and they share the news with store associates, adding that Fred Meyer immediately follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and sanitizes the store.
Temple cited HIPAA regulations and said the stores do not share any information about infected associates or their employment details.
Corvallis Fred Meyer did not respond to a media contact request.
By Cody Mann