The Kroger in Newport, KY started limiting customers in store among other safety precautions already in place.

Cincinnati Enquirer

Kroger wants federal and state officials to classify its nearly 460,000 workers nationwide “extended first responders” or “emergency personnel” as the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic.

Many states have shut down restaurants in their bids to contain the spread of the highly contagious virus, but such moves have put extra pressure on supermarkets to feed Americans, who in recent years have gotten half their food outside grocery stores. While that’s job security for supermarket workers, it’s also extra exposure amid the pandemic.

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen on Tuesday joined the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) in calling for the temporary official “first responder” designation that would improve supermarket workers’ access to still-scarce personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks.

“Given the significant daily risk these workers face, we are calling on all of our federal and state leaders to take immediate action,” McMullen said in a joint statement with the UFCW president Marc Perrone. “Make no mistake, this designation is absolutely critical as it will ensure these front-line workers have priority access to personal protection equipment like masks and gloves.

“This urgent call for temporary first-responder or emergency personnel status is not just about protecting grocery store workers; it is also about protecting the customers they serve and our nation’s food supply in general,” McMullen concluded. “We urge our national and statewide elected leaders to act now and protect these essential workers.”

Four Kroger workers have died in Michigan while workers at stores in Finneytown, Harrison, Middletown and Batesville, Indiana, have fallen ill.

Kroger is the nation’s largest supermarket chain. Besides Kroger stores, the grocer operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Mariano’s, Fry’s, Smith’s, King Soopers, QFC and others. The company employs 460,000 workers nationwide and operates nearly 2,800 stores.

Follow Alexander Coolidge on Twitter: @alexcoolidge.

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