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Fresh Market offers paid sick leave and gives employees 30 percent off their purchases.EXPAND
Fresh Market offers paid sick leave and gives employees 30 percent off their purchases.
Photo by Jen Karetnick

How Miami's Grocery Stores Treat Employees During the Coronavirus Crisis

Healthcare for employees has been a hot topic for decades — but never more than now. As the novel coronavirus spreads across South Florida and workers at essential businesses face an increased risk for infection, health-and-safety precautions for workers is headline material.

Recent days have brought news of the deaths of grocery-store workers from COVID-19 in New York, Maryland, and Illinois. Closer to home, the Miami Herald reported last week that four South Florida Publix employees tested positive for COVID-19. The Florida-based chain is installing self-checkout lanes as well as Plexiglas to separate customers from cashiers and allowing some employees to wear gloves and masks. But a recent shopping trip revealed that many employees weren't wearing personal protective equipment or practicing or encouraging social distancing.

Supermarket personnel are considered essential employees. They're manning the front lines so the rest of us can survive while adhering to government stay-at-home orders. But how are companies treating their workers?

Below is a comparison of personnel policies — including increased sick time and pay rates — at Miami's major grocery chains.

Note: All companies listed here are actively hiring. For job openings and information about how to apply, consult their corporate websites or U.S. Rep. Federica S. Wilson's COVID-19 list.

Aldi. The German-owned discount chain makes frequent coronavirus-related updates on Facebook and on its corporate website. As of March 25, Aldi was temporarily increasing wages. The company also adjusted its sick leave policy "to ensure employees can put their health first and stay home when they aren’t feeling well.” As of April 2, protective barriers were being installed at some locations, and gloves were being distributed. Masks for employees are being shipped to stores this week.

The Fresh Market. Per the policy notes on its website, updated March 24: “The Fresh Market has established resources for team members, including a health advocate to answer their medical questions, and a hotline for team members to access seven days a week.” Additionally, the company has initiated what it calls the “Temporary COVID-19 Pay Policy,” which provides up to two weeks of paid sick leave if an employee “is required to be placed under mandatory quarantine.” (That implies sick leave for the ill and for those who come into contact with someone who tests positive.) Fresh Market employees now receive an extra 10 percent off their purchases, on top of the standard 20 percent employee discount. As of publication, workers were not being supplied with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks.

Publix isn't exactly transparent on its website about sick leave and employee benefits during the pandemic, but it has made statements to the media.
Publix isn't exactly transparent on its website about sick leave and employee benefits during the pandemic, but it has made statements to the media.

Publix. The Lakeland, Florida-based company displays many statements about charitable donations and community support on its website. But as of publication, Publix does not publicly share its company policies regarding sick leave and employee benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. New Times spoke with an employee who confirmed he'd been sent home with two weeks of paid sick leave because his wife might have come into contact with someone who had COVID-19. Since then, Publix has confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald that it offers 14 days of paid sick leave to those who are ill and/or in contact with the sick. The company has a coronavirus FAQ page, which includes its new policy regarding employees and personal protective equipment. According to the page, "[Publix] decided to allow those in select job classes who are not normally required to wear gloves and masks, the option to wear this personal protective equipment (PPE) for the duration of this national emergency. This includes associates in our pharmacies." Additionally, the company provides gloves for employees who work in high-customer-contact roles as supply allows. The supermarket chain is not providing masks to employees on the grounds that "existing supplies need to be reserved for healthcare and medical professionals."

Sedano’s. The website of the largest Hispanic-owned supermarket chain contains no information about the new coronavirus other than how to order online. But Sedano's recently issued a statement announcing it has installed Plexiglas barriers at checkout stations at all of its stores. In addition, it has initiated in-store voice announcements to remind shoppers about social distancing and is providing gloves and masks to employees. The company did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment about paid sick leave and employee benefits.

Whole Foods Market. Per the company website, “All team members placed into quarantine or diagnosed with COVID-19 will receive up to an additional two weeks of paid time off.” Also, all part-time and full-time Whole Foods employees have received a $2 per hour raise throughout April. They also receive double pay for overtime through May 3 and back pay retroactive to March 16. Like those of full-time workers, the hours of part-time employees will go toward discretionary paid time off. The company has created a $3.34 million emergency fund that's available to all employees who are faced with a crisis, and “all additional donations to the fund will be matched 100 percent by Whole Foods Market.” The company has beefed up its sanitation procedures and made additional hand sanitizer available but, as of publication, was not supplying workers with PPE.

Winn-Dixie. The store does not offer much information on its website other than through its "Press" tab. But a press release from Southeastern Grocers, Winn-Dixie's parent company, states it is installing protective Plexiglas partitions at all store registers, customer service desks, pharmacies, and liquor store counters. Emails requesting information about paid time off were unanswered by publication.

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