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St. Louis Union Urges Governor To Mandate Face Coverings For Shoppers

Employees at Dierbergs in Ballwin bag customer groceries on March 21, 2020. Local grocery stores have been particularly busy in recent weeks, as shoppers rush to stock up on essentials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Employees at Dierbergs in Ballwin bag customers' groceries on March 21.

The union that represents thousands of grocery and other retail workers in the St. Louis area is asking Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to mandate that customers cover their faces while shopping in retail facilities deemed essential businesses.

“Most of the retailers that I represent today, and a lot of the nonunion ones, are now providing some type of mask for their employees,” said David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655. “And that’s great — the mask protects the public from getting an infection from them — but nothing protects them from the public.”

Cook said that the CDC specifically mentions grocery stores in its latest recommendation that customers wear cloth facial coverings in public. The union sent its letter to the governor’s office today.

“There are more groceries being bought than there ever have been, because people are eating at home,” Cook said. “My workers, and all grocery and retail workers across Missouri, are being subjected to an unknown amount of virus on a daily basis.”

The union has also asked Parson to deem all essential retail workers as temporary first responders. The designation would give them state-provided protective gear and other benefits.

Grocery store worker Chris Dean would also like to see additional measures put in place to protect workers, such as grocery stores committing to pickup and delivery only. Dean started the Who Are We movement as a resource and organizing point for essential workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Just limiting the amount of customers coming in, that’s great — that helps the customers … but the people who are ringing up the customers are still dealing with thousands of people a day,” she said. 

“That’s not acceptable. What we are doing is not enough. We are risking our lives, and the Who Are We movement is here to let everybody know that that is not OK. We deserve to live, and we deserve to be safe at work.”

Hear Sarah Fenske’s conversation with Dean and Cook:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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