As many people across the country hunker down in their homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, others still have to report to work each day – because they perform critical functions that allow the rest of us to stay safe and healthy.
In addition to health care workers and first responders, the people on the front lines of the pandemic include grocery store employees: the clerks who operate the registers, the staff who stock the shelves, the people who work in distribution and the workers who keep the stores clean.
Now some states are classifying grocery store workers as emergency employees, making them eligible for certain benefits, in news first reported by Mother Jones.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order over the weekend that provides childcare for school-age children of emergency workers, which now encompasses grocery store employees.
The guidance following the order classifies “food distribution workers” as essential tier 2 employees for whom districts should provide child care.
“Care for children of educators, gas and electric utility workers, food distribution personnel, water treatment staff, and others outlined below is essential to ensuring the public continues to receive these vital services,” the executive order reads.
“Districts should make every effort to provide care for school-age children of workers in the areas below, if they are able to do so while adhering to the Minnesota Department of Health’s social distancing guidelines.”
The Minnesota Grocers Association, a trade group that represents the state’s food industry, applauded the move.
”.@GovTimWalz has classified “food distribution workers,” which is store clerks, stockers, etc, as Tier 2 emergency works. This allows frontline workers childcare as they serve and feed Minnesotans. Thank you @GovTimWalz for supporting our industry during this challenging time!” the organization tweeted.
Vermont has indicated it would do the same.
Gov. Phil Scott issued a directive earlier this week that encouraged childcare centers to stay open where needed to provide services for the state’s emergency workers, which includes health care workers, criminal justice personnel, first responders, public health employees, National Guard workers and some state employees.
Currently, the guidance does not specifically define food workers as emergency personnel, though it indicates that the definition of essential employees could evolve as the state continues to respond to the crisis.
But at a press conference on Wednesday, state public safety commissioner Michael Schirling said that grocery store workers and others who work in food distribution are considered essential and that he expected them to be added to the list of emergency workers soon.