Essential in Word, Disposable in Action

From the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to the wildfires consuming so much of the states we call home, 2020 has been devastating and relentless. Even as I write this, I’m getting steady reports of various wildfires taking 555 members’ homes. We also unfortunately believe our UFCW Local 555 family has suffered its first COVID-19 related death. Day after day, hardworking people are met with life-threatening obstacles and circumstances.

Since the pandemic first began to spread, a whole lot of people, businesses and politicians have used their words to express their thanks and support to essential workers like you. Unfortunately, far less of them have supported you with meaningful action.

Both Governor Brown from Oregon and Governor Inslee from Washington declared most of you Essential Employees. Whether you worked in Retail, Food Production, or Healthcare, people recognized now more than ever how important and crucial you all were. It’s baffling and disheartening to see how quickly many seem to have forgotten that truth, especially here in Oregon.

While Washington’s Governor Inslee ordered that Workers’ Compensation must presumptively cover Essential Employees who get COVID-19, Governor Brown, even after we appealed to her directly in person on your behalf, did not. Bringing your needs to the Workers’ Compensation Board yielded nothing. We continue to advocate for you to the Oregon Legislature. They keep telling us help is right around the corner. As the year and pandemic drags on, it has become clear that it’s always around the next corner. The last word from them was that they could probably get to it in January of 2021–at least a full year after the virus first arrived in Oregon.

Even the fights we have “won” have been made toothless by lack of corporate and government enforcement. Governor Brown “mandated” masks at Essential Employees workplaces, done with a “wink, wink” designed to protect profits over people, and enforced erratically at best. The major retailers have largely told the people who manage the doors that they can’t interfere with a customer’s ability to shop, regardless of whether that customer follows the mask regulation or not. Is it any wonder that, like so many other supposedly “essential” industries, we have seen dozens and dozens of cases creep through our ranks?

I’m reaching out today with a simple message: I understand your frustration, and I share it. I know it feels we have reached the breaking point only to find a half dozen more behind it. I field concerns from our incredible members every day about the lack of safety in the workplace. Let me be clear: I will be taking them to the bargaining table with me.

In the meantime, it’s high time for you to get some love from your employers and from Oregon’s Legislature. Customers need to wear masks, you need presumptive acceptance of Workers’ Comp claims should you get sick, and you need better compensation for the additional risk to you and your families. We continue the fight, as does our International Union. We’ll never stop fighting for you, never stop demanding that employers and elected officials act in good faith for those who hold up the economy on their shoulders.

When issues arise at the store level, or you need an advocate to help better protect your health and safety, reach out right away to your union rep (you can find their name and contact info in less than 30 seconds using our website’s Rep Finder tool). They are your contract and store expert and can help bring concerns and questions to management, as well as make you aware of the latest regulations, relief programs and more.

As a nation and an industry, we are weathering a season like never before. Thank you for your tireless, selfless acts that have kept the nation running. Your 555 leadership will continue sharing your stories and fighting these fights and more for you every single day for as long as it takes. Stay strong, stay healthy.

You are the very definition of essential.

In Solidarity,

Dan Clay