Ban the Bags! Illinois’ Largest Retail Union Calls for more Protections for Grocery, Retail, and Pharmacy Front Line Workers

For Immediate Release

Des Plaines, IL –34,000 retail, pharmacy, and grocery members of Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers have been deemed “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic and are selflessly continuing to provide vital services in Illinois keeping millions fed and medicated while offering the last vestiges of normalcy in our communities.

Local 881 UFCW members are risking their own health, and that of their families, to ensure stores remain stocked, operational, and sanitized, and will remain on the leading edge of the state’s response to this health crisis. While many employers are implementing additional health and safety strategies to protect our members and their families, per the union’s demands, like installing plexiglass shields in check-out lanes, allowing for more time to sanitize work stations and the overall stores, and providing hazard pay, more can be done.

To that end, Local 881 UFCW President and International Vice President, Steve Powell, today released the following statement and list of requests to local, state, and federal leadership in Illinois:

“Tens of thousands of Local 881 UFCW members continue to show up every day and serve their communities across Illinois despite the risk to their own health and that of their families. These brave union members deserve nothing less than the respect and protection of their elected leaders. Words and appreciation are not enough during this crisis. You cannot call them essential without providing the protections and benefits that title deserves. That is why we are demanding that our elected leaders immediate enact the following safety measures.”

    • Local 881 workers must be designated as first responders for the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis. Governors in Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont have taken this position, which will make retail workers eligible for free childcare, provide coverage for all coronavirus treatments, tests, and medicines if diagnosed or quarantined, and ensure that they have adequate access to PPE. These minimum benefits come at a pivotal time as our members are working to sustain the food supply when demand is high, and schools are closed. Like the rest of us, grocery store, pharmacy, and food processing workers have children who are no longer attending school and are themselves at risk of getting sick. Everything must be done to ensure they can work and come home safely to their families
    • Limitations on the number of customers in grocery stores and pharmacies must be put in place. Directives from the Governor and Mayor have severely limited the size of crowds allowed in public and private places, and our essential retail outlets should be treated similarly.
    • Suspend Chicago’s single use “bag tax” for the remainder of the COVID-19 crisis so that workers and customers are not being infected by reusable bags that are transmitting the virus from home to grocery stores. We have recently seen other industry leaders take decisive action to protect their workers and customers by suspending shoppers from bringing in reusable items like cups and bags because of concerns over transmission of the virus. Local 881 clerks and baggers are directly in harm’s way by having to handle hundreds of reusable shopping bags in an average shift. Other states have already implemented a temporary ban on reusable shopping bags and many of our employers are beginning this commonsense practice.


Local 881 UFCW represents 34,000 members employed in retail food and drug stores throughout Illinois and Northwest Indiana, cannabis workers in Illinois, as well as a professional division comprised of health and nursing home workers, barbers and cosmetologists, and workers in other retail and service industries. Among the companies under contract with Local 881 are Jewel Food Stores, Osco Drug, Mariano’s, CVS Pharmacy, Kroger, Schnucks, Conagra Brands, and many smaller chains and independent stores, as well as nursing homes and other business establishments. Local 881 is among the largest affiliates of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.