AFGE Asks Military Grocery Stores to Protect Workers as Coronavirus Spreads

Categories: DoD, The Insider, Coronavirus

As the new coronavirus spreads rapidly across the country, AFGE is asking the Defense Commissary Agency, which runs military grocery stores, to protect commissary workers and the customers – military personnel and their families – they serve against the virus.

Managers at the commissary at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, for example, are not taking the outbreak seriously and have not gotten on board with any of the protection measures after three people have tested positive and eight people have been quarantined on base.

The base itself has been shut down and will remain closed until March 30, but the commissary remains open with waves of panicked customers flooding the store. After learning from social media that the base had been shut down, our local union asked for additional sanitizing efforts, including extra cleaning, hand sanitizers, N95 masks, and gloves for cashiers. Instead of protecting the workers, management denied our requests. They also told our local that workers shouldn’t even be wearing gloves.

It was not until March 14 that the cashiers were provided with hand sanitizers, a week after exposure was brought to attention. But that’s pretty much it. The local asked for extra cleaning of the store, but the contractor responsible denied the request. The wing commander later offered extra cleaning, but as of March 16, nothing has been done.

“We have a lot of employees who are terrified. They are scared,” said AFGE Local 2317 union steward Jodi Rutland.

In a letter to Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Virginia S. Penrod and DeCa’s Interim Director Admiral Robert Bianchi, AFGE asked that the department take several precautionary steps to protect the workers at all commissaries and the customers they serve in the midst of this dangerous Coronavirus pandemic:

  • Reduce retail hours and/or stagger hours of operation in stores to allow for proper cleaning throughout the day for the entire store. This will allow cleaning contractors adequate time to make sure that every effort has been made to minimize any accidental exposure to the virus. It will also allow employees to have adequate time to clean their own work areas and departments.
  • Provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all commissary employees who, in the course of their duties, have direct contact with customers and suppliers.
  • Provide paid leave for all Commissary employees who fit the criteria for self-quarantine or who have been ordered to quarantine by a certified medical professional. This paid leave would be in addition to all paid leave guaranteed to our members by law, regulation, or contract.
  • Establish a labor-management task force so that there is an opportunity for constant communication between representatives of the workforce and store and department leadership. Our members want and need information about infections among patrons, workers and their family and social circles.

We understand that these are extraordinary requests, but the Coronavirus pandemic is an extraordinary event.

“DeCA employees are proud of the important service we provide to the military, veterans, National Guard, and others with commissary privileges. We are more than willing to continue to provide these services in this time of national emergency, yet we want DeCA to provide the utmost protection to its workforce as it carries out the agency’s mission,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “Unnecessary and avoidable exposure to COVID-19 of active duty personnel and their families, veterans and others who utilize commissaries should be a priority of the highest order.”

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