‘I face each day with anxiety’: Grocery workers union estimates 10K infected or exposed to COVID-19

According to a new internal report by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), at least 68 grocery workers have died and more than 10,000 have been infected or exposed to the novel coronavirus.

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The UFCW is America’s largest food and retail union, representing 1.3 million workers in grocery, meatpacking, food processing and other industries.

During a national press call uploaded to YouTube, union officials called on major supermarket companies to reinstate hazard pay, citing a 200 percent rise in cases in the past five weeks.

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“Amazon, Whole Foods, Kroger, and other companies have shamefully announced pay cuts for millions of these workers on the frontlines, even as each company experiences record sales,” said Marc Perrone, the UFCW international president.

Kroger, which employs workers that the UFCW represents, recently announced that it cut the extra $2 per hour “hero pay” it had been giving its workers. The grocery chain replaced the hazard pay with a $400 “Thank You Pay” bonus for eligible full-time workers and $200 for part-time workers.

FILE - Vons checker cashier cleans and sanitizes her checkout lane at a Vons in California. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

But union officials feel that in the face of the devastating and dangerous COVID-19 pandemic, the bonuses are not enough. 

Perrone urged grocery companies to release internal numbers with information on worker deaths, infections and exposure regarding COVID-19. 

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“Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Kroger have failed to release internal numbers on worker deaths, infections, and exposure. Amazon even fired workers brave enough to speak out,” Perrone said. 

Workers from grocery stores across the country also joined the video call, saying that more needs to be done to support them. 

“We are working longer hours under stressful conditions. At my store, they take daily temperature scans, but the thermometers the company provides us don’t work,” said a Ralphs grocery worker in San Diego, California.

“I face each day with anxiety and it gets worse when I see customers refuse to wear masks. I am a mother and my children need me to stay healthy,” said a Kroger meat department worker in Lansing, Michigan.