Illinois’ Largest Retail Union Calls for Grocery, Retail, and Pharmacy Workers to Be Designated as First Responders

For Immediate Release

Des Plaines, IL – As Illinois and the nation enters the first week of unprecedented shutdowns of government and private business, the hardworking members of Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers remain on the front lines of the societal and economic crisis that COVID-19 presents. 

Staffing hundreds of grocery stores and pharmacies across Illinois and Northwest Indiana, Local 881 UFCW members are providing a vital link to millions of families who need to access food, prescriptions, and household products that allow them to stay home safely and help flatten the curve. Local 881 UFCW members are putting in thousands of hours at risk to their own health, to ensure stores remain stocked and sanitized, and will remain on the leading edge of the state’s response to this health crisis. 

Local 881 UFCW staff and leadership have been in constant communication with our employer partners, government officials at all levels, and our membership to advocate for member’s safety and rights during this time. We are particularly thankful to have strong and responsive leaders like Governor Pritzker, Mayor Lightfoot, and the members of our Congressional delegation who are approaching this crisis with the needs of working families first and foremost. 

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

    • Grocery, retail, and pharmacy Union members are staffing the front lines of this public health crisis. As we have witnessed the demand for food and supplies reach unprecedented levels, our hardworking men and women are working tirelessly to meet the needs of the Illinois citizens. I ask that Local 881 workers be designated as first responders and be recognized as the essential workers they are in the midst of this crisis. 
    • In the event of local travel restrictions or curfews, I request that Local 881 members be given permission and protection in order to safely commute to and from their work locations in order to perform their essential jobs by showing proof of employment or their Union membership card. 
    • In light of the recent guidelines limiting gathering and event sizes, I ask you to provide a more comprehensive plan that protects our workers and community within stores by providing crowd control measures or specific limits to the number of people allowed in stores at any given time. We continue to call on our employers to provide protective measures and supplies to all members who are working in the stores, particularly those in the check-outs, who are coming into contact with hundreds of customers in an average shift. 
    • We are calling on the Illinois Congressional delegation to do the right thing by amending the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to recognize our country’s grocery, retail, and food processing workers as first responders. We ask that they use the federal relief legislation to guarantee that all of these workers receive at least two weeks of paid leave. This will ensure that our members can continue to serve their communities without having to choose between their health and their paycheck.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, we again want to say how proud we are of our thousands of workers who are showing up and serving their communities in extremely stressful times. We also call on all customers and residents of Illinois and NW Indiana to please, treat our members with the respect they deserve during this crisis, and to practice the safest health guidelines that public health officials recommend when in our stores.  


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.