On Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced during is daily COVID-19 press conference that childcare benefits provided for healthcare workers and first responders would be extended to grocery workers.

“We need them,” Beshear said. “We know the food supply chain is safe, but we have to make sure that we have enough people that are there stocking the shelves, day in and day out. This was a change we were able to make knowing that we have the capacity in our existing facilities providing that childcare service. We need our grocery store workers and we want to thank them for what they are doing.”

For Louisville-based United Food & Commercial Workers Local 227, who represents 25,000 members in Kentucky and Southern Indiana in industries such as meatpacking, food processing, retail grocery, garment, painting, health care and more, the governor’s announcement was a major victory as they continue to work to ensure the safety of their workers, said Caitlin Blair, Local 227 communications director.

“It is important that the children of our workers are taken care of as their parents continue to go to work and risk their health and safety,” she said. “We are currently working to give our members all of the information and contacts that they need to be able to take advantage of these critical benefits. We are very grateful to the governor and his leadership.”

For grocery workers to take advantage of a “Limited Duration Center” for their children 12 years of age and under, they will need to verify their employment and agree to, when approved for the services, isolate when not working, use social distancing and good hygiene. If, according to the limited guidance provided by the Office of the Inspector General, an employer places a parent on isolation or quarantine, children may not attend for that quarantine period.

While Beshear’s announcement was certainly a boon for the industry, the Local 227 is still working to garner more benefits, not only through Kentucky and Indiana, but through employers.

“They need access to PPE and faster testing,” she said. “We are working alongside retailers to address one of our members biggest concerns regarding the public being more respectful of social distancing. It is a major concern among our workers about the lack of social distancing taking place when people come to shop.”

Already, there are moves by employers to encourage social distancing through the placement of tape and stickers with the union adding in a text service, ShopSafe to number 83071, for customers so that they can stay informed on what protocols are being enacted and further support workers, she said.

“There are a lot of ideas about what we can do to enforce better distancing,” she said. “We are seeing ideas pop up like making directional isles to try and better enforce social distancing to keep the public and workers safe. Both Kroger and Meijer have set aside store hours for the elderly and high risk shoppers. We, as a union, have encouraged employers to limit the number of customers shopping at a given time. We are fighting for that limit.”

On the employer side, those Kroger employees in the 227’s area, through the work of Local 227 President Bob Blair and the Employers Health and Welfare Plan Board of Trustees, are now enjoying free telehealth services for the next couple of weeks. One of many steps everyone is taking to ease the effects of the pandemic, said Caitlin Blair.

“We feel that the telehealth is important at this time,” she said. “Not only will it speed up the access for our members to get medical advice but it is also a solution that helps to ease the burden on our healthcare workers. We are seeing other employers offer these types of benefits to their workers. I do think that in these times that everybody is trying to do their part to find solutions to get is through this.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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