As retail workers across the U.S. continue to contend with changing mask requirements and renewed coronavirus concerns, the industry’s largest union is calling for a nationwide mask mandate.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million retail workers, said in a statement that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated mask guidance does not go far enough in protecting its members. The CDC issued a recommendation Tuesday that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places with high rates of Covid-19 transmission, but the guidance leaves it up to state and local authorities to implement enforceable rules. As such, in-store masking is currently required in some places — including Los Angeles County, which reinstated its indoor mask mandate on July 17 — and voluntary in others.
“A national mask mandate is the only way we can finally take control of this virus and every retail CEO in the country must recognize that now is the time for all of us to mask up so we can keep our economy open and communities safe,” said the UFCW, citing new waves of Covid-19 cases around the country tied to the rise of the Delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus.
Many major retailers relaxed their in-store masking rules following the CDC’s guidance in May, which advised that people who had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 did not need to wear masks or practice social distancing in most indoor and outdoor spaces. Target, for one, no longer requires fully vaccinated customers and workers to wear masks, except where it’s required by local ordinances. Walmart, Costco, Kohl’s, Walgreens and T.J. Maxx also said in May that customers and employees could stop wearing masks if fully vaccinated, though these policies could change as the pandemic evolves.
Since last spring, retail workers have been on the front lines of mask enforcement in their communities, leaving them vulnerable, in some cases, to verbal and physical abuse from customers who oppose masking rules.
“We ask customers to be mindful of the guidance provided by local retailers, and that they respect employees and their fellow customers who may continue to wear masks for the safety of themselves and their family,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, in a statement regarding the CDC’s updated guidance.