Petition aims to classify grocery store workers as first responders amid COVID-19 crisis

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — A petition sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to temporarily designate grocery store workers as first responders to provide them with better protections on the job.

“They are there from early morning to close, stocking shelves and they are there to assist customers,” Hayward Battle said.

Hayward Battle is one of at least 90 pastors and faith-based leaders in Arkansas who partnered with the Greater Little Rock Organizing Committee to send the petition to the governor Monday.

“We’re hopeful that we will get a positive response from the governor. He has just done an extraordinary job navigating out state,” he said.

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The “first responder” classification would allow grocery store workers to receive federal funds to better protect them on the job.

“They should be recognized because they too are putting their lives on the line,” Battle said.

Steve Gelios is the president of the union that represents 3,000 Kroger employees in Arkansas. He sent a letter four weeks ago to the governor requesting the same thing.    

This petition would give grocery store workers priority access to testing.

“I hope that Governor Hutchinson sees the wisdom of doing it because then we have to do the social tracing to find out who they are in contact with, customers because it could be widespread,” Gelios said.

Gelios said some of his workers have been denied tests because their symptoms were not severe enough.

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“Grocery store workers should have that same priority if they’re sick,” he said.

Grocery store workers would also be given more personal protective equipment like masks and gloves. Some funding for child care would also be available.

“We’ve got a lot of single mothers. What do they do with their kids now?” Gelios said.

Gelios believes these protections are urgent.

“Not trying to say they’re firefighters or police officers because those are truly first responders, but the grocery store workers are critical and we need to protect them as best we can,” he said.