A Wisconsin labor union says workers at Kroger's distribution center in Oconomowoc are facing increased risk of contracting COVID-19 after the company brought in additional manpower without notifying the union or updating safety protocols.
Teamsters Local 200
has filed a union grievance with Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co.
over the retailer's addition of 75 non-union workers to the "already congested" 1.1 million-square-foot facility, said union secretary-treasurer Thomas Bennett in an interview with BizTimes Milwaukee.
Kroger Co., which owns Pick 'n Save and Metro Market parent company Roundy's, has a collective bargaining agreement with Teamsters Local 200. The union says it has 800 members working as truck drivers and warehouse operators at the Oconomowoc facility, located at 1120 Distribution Court.
This is not the first time Kroger has brought in employees from outside the union to support the operation, but the union is usually notified beforehand, said Bennett.
"This time they did it unannounced and did not create any dialog related to the conditions and how the conditions would improve or be modified to ensure the safety and health of everybody in that building," he said.
The increase in worker capacity comes about a month after Kroger reported that 5% of all workers at the Oconomowoc site had contracted COVID-19, said Bennett.
Kroger did not immediately respond to BizTimes' requests for comment on the union's complaint.
As positive COVID-19 case counts continue to surge across the state, Gov. Tony Evers announced an executive order on Tuesday urging Wisconsinites to stay home but did not mandate any restrictions.
Kroger says it has "taken extensive measures to safeguard our associates, customers and supply chain," against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The company's website includes a 79-page document
with information on how it has addressed the public health crisis using division-specific procedures as well as best practices and resources for other businesses. Its supply chain protocols include employee education, PPE, physical distancing and increased sanitation.
Bennett acknowledged Kroger's efforts to implement additional safety measures, but he said the nature of a grocery warehousing job makes it challenging for workers to maintain six feet of distance from one another.
During a typical shift, up to 125 workers are on the floor in each of the facility's four departments.
"It was difficult enough with our large group of teamsters out there, now you start adding additional people in the building, that shrinks the safety net..." he said. "It creates more congestion, it creates more opportunity for people being on top of each other."
Local 200 also said in a news release Tuesday that it is currently working with Kroger on an extension agreement that will expire in less than two weeks. It said Kroger is paying into a workers' health care fund at 2017 rates and has refused to make changes that will protect the health care of its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.