‘We’re people first’: Boston grocery store workers hold protest in response to coronavirus exposure, lack of protection

BOSTON (WHDH) - Grocery store workers in Boston held a protest on Tuesday morning to demand more protection from their employers as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths-linked to the highly contagious disease continues to climb on a daily basis.

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“Hey, hey! We need hazard pay! Ho, ho!” a frightened and frustrated grocery worker could be heard yelling into a megaphone.

Dozens of workers from Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s lined the sidewalk outside of the Whole Foods in the city’s South End.

“We are demanding adequate personal protective equipment and time-and-half hazard pay for the duration of the crisis,” protestor Elan Axelbank said.

Many workers could be seen holding a bright sign with bold messages demanding action.

“Protect the front line, not the bottom line,” one worker’s sign said.

Other workers told 7NEWS that they are worried sick and fearful that they will catch the virus and never recover.

“We’re essential employees but we’re people first,” Lisa Wilson said. “I feel like they forgot that a long time ago. Now is definitely time to remember that.”

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced Tuesday that the state is limiting the number of people who can go into a grocery store at one time.

“We are issuing guidance that will say 40 percent of the occupancy, and that occupancy will include both employees and customers,” she explained.

In a statement obtained by 7NEWS, Whole Foods said they will be providing their employees with gloves and masks, in addition to paying them an extra $2 per hour.

A Stop & Shop spokesperson said they’re implementing extra precautions, including placing signage in stores reminding customers to stand at least six feet apart, putting tape on the floor near each register that shows the recommended distance, and making aisles go in one direction only in all Massachusetts stores.

Workers argue these guidelines are not being followed as well as they should be.

“They’ll put the tape down, and they’ll put signs and things like that. But as far as actually enforcing it and making sure that, you know, people are staying a certain amount of feet apart, and things are getting cleaned and sanitized as much as they should, that’s not really happening,” Wilson said.

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