What responsibility do grocery chains like Walmart and Kroger have for the deaths of their workers during the pandemic?
At least 158 grocery store workers have died from Covid-19, according to estimates from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The family members left behind are now calling out employers like Walmart and Kroger for refusing to acknowledge responsibility in the deaths and illnesses of their staff. “I’m not going to say Walmart killed my brother,” said Angela McMiller of her brother Phillip Thomas who died in the early months of the pandemic. “But did they help him? No, not at all.” Last spring, companies were slow to implement mask mandates and failed to adequately enforce them. The families of those who died contend that grocery chains also failed to alert staff of potential Covid-19 exposures, and were reluctant to disclose case numbers. Meanwhile, the federal agency in charge of workplace safety oversight slow-walked inspections and failed to enforce its own guidelines. As one worker advocate put it: “It was a real abdication of responsibility.”