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Fearing infection, Food 4 Less workers demand stores bring back tighter coronavirus controls

Grocery workers and union members protest outside a North Long Beach Food 4 Less for increased safety measures and hazard pay. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

With many families celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday at home this year, grocery store workers are expecting an especially intense rush to supermarkets—and some are accusing stores of letting up on protective measures at the wrong time.

The union representing workers at Food 4 Less and other grocers organized a protest at a North Long Beach Food 4 Less this week, alleging the chain has relaxed its crowd control and sanitizing protocols. Previously stores had workers standing at entrances, controlling the number of shoppers allowed in and sanitizing carts.

A spokesperson for Kroger, the parent company of Food 4 Less and Ralphs grocery store chains, said crowd control is now managed by technology called Que Vision that determines when to assign staffers to control the inflow of customers.

The spokesperson, Vanessa Rosales, said sanitizer is located at the entrance, and it is up to shoppers to use it. Rosales did not address why that change was made.

“Now they leave you a little bit of sanitizer and say: help yourself,” said Andrea Zinder, president of UFCW Local 324, which represents service workers in Long Beach and the surrounding area.

The union says its members have been infected at a “rapid pace,” but did not provide numbers that back that up. The numbers show that about 3% of the union’s 15,000 members who are grocery store workers have been infected with coronavirus—which is not out of line with the infection rate of Los Angeles County and California as a whole.

Janelle Alva, a Food 4 Less store worker of 13 years, said she is worried about her own health as well as that of her family, especially as customer traffic picks up ahead of the holidays.

“Crowd control is getting harder and harder to enact, because they don’t want to shut the doors,” Alva said. “It’s scary.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information about infection rates among grocery store workers who are part of the union.

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