Arkansas faith leaders call for ‘first responder’ designation for grocery workers

Coronavirus

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News Release) – The Greater Little Rock Organizing Committee (LROC), has partnered with faith leaders from across the state to petition Governor Asa Hutchinson to temporarily designate the state’s grocery workers as “first responders” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The official letter, submitted to the Governor’s Office by LROC, includes signatures from 96 faith leaders who have pledged their support in urging the State Government to designate the Arkansas grocery workers as first responders. This designation will draw down federal dollars allowing grocery workers to receive benefits already afforded to other workers on the front-lines.  LROC’s appeal follows the sentiments of statements released by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and The Kroger Co., America’s largest supermarket, who have urged national and statewide leaders to protect these essential grocery workers on a large scale. Some states; such as Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont and Michigan have already provided similar designations for grocery clerks.

The “first responder” classification would draw down federal dollars so grocery workers can receive similar benefits as other emergency responders including childcare, prioritized coronavirus testing when necessary, treatment for COVID-19 should it be needed, and access to personal protection equipment like masks and gloves. Nationwide, dozens of grocery associates have died as victims of COVID-19. “These workers provide essential services to entire communities,” says C. Dennis Edwards I, Sr. Pastor, St. John Missionary Baptist Church and institutional member of LROC. “Certainly, the parameters of concern, compassion, and compensation should be expanded to include those who care for all of us through their invaluable service.”

These employees, many of whom are now working extended hours to respond to the increased demand of shoppers during the pandemic, face significant daily risks by being exposed to hundreds of customers. Keeping grocery workers safe and healthy also keeps customers safe and healthy.  Rev. Ed Wills of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church agrees: “One thing this virus has revealed is that community care and community interest IS self-care and self-interest. We truly belong to one another.”

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