After 28 employees test positive for COVID-19 at Westlake Food 4 Less, workers demand better protection

Grocery store employees at a Food 4 Less in Westlake are demanding better protection and protocols after nearly 30 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

So far, 28 workers have become infected with COVID-19 at the location, making it the largest cluster at a grocery or retail drug store in Los Angeles and the most publicly reported positive cases of grocery retail workers in Los Angeles County. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 is calling for regular COVID-19 testing for employees and more transparency about infections at stores run by Kroger, the parent company of the Food 4 Less and Ralphs supermarket chains. 

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“It’s clear that the pandemic will not be weeks-long or even months-long. It is our new reality and workers and customers need permanent protections,” said the chapter's president, John Grant. “The pandemic has shone a bright light on hourly wage earners. They are Black and brown, immigrants and people of color. Their work has always been essential and undervalued. The pandemic put their hard work front and center.”

The workers plan to hold a social-distance safe demonstration at 11 a.m. Wednesday outside the chain's location, located at 1700 W 6th Street.

In a statement to FOX 11, a representative for Kroger said, "Food 4 Less has taken extensive measures to safeguard our associates, customers and supply chain, ensuring local communities always have access to fresh, affordable food."

The protections included things like providing face masks for every associate every shift, installing Plexiglass shields at checkout stands, handwashing and cleaning high-touch areas every 30 minutes, limiting store capacity to 25% of normal and mandatory temperature and symptom checks for associates prior to starting their shifts.

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The outbreak at the Food 4 Less in Westlake is the second outbreak at a Kroger-owned store in Los Angeles, union officials said. Since May, more than 25 grocery workers tested positive for COVID-19 at the Ralphs at 7257 W. Sunset Blvd. With 129 workers total, about 19% of the store’s unionized workforce has been infected with the virus.