The country’s largest food and retail union wants store owners to enforce customer mask mandates again

As the Omicron variant gains ground, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union—the country’s largest food and retail union—has asked the CEOs of more than 60 retail and grocery store chains to reinstate customer mask mandates to protect workers. As vaccination rates across the country climbed this spring, many retailers eased mask requirements for customers heading into summer—even as warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended masks indoors in high transmission areas. In a letter, whose recipients included Walmart and Kroger (the nation’s two largest food retailers), the million-member union urged store owners to bring back social distancing and mask requirements for customers. It went a step further, encouraging businesses to offer paid sick leave that would empower workers to get vaccinations or booster shots without fear of losing income should they have a reaction that requires time away from work. Yet even as health experts warn of the potential deadly consequences of the latest variant, many store owners have been lax to enforce mask-wearing policies and social distancing protocols, for fear of evoking anger or even violence from customers. —Safiya Charles