The CDC's new mask guidance is confusing for frontline retail workers and turns them into the 'vaccination police,' a leading union says

The CDC's new mask guidance is confusing for frontline retail workers and turns them into the 'vaccination police,' a leading union says
A woman wearing a mask moves her shopping cart December 3, 2020 in a Trader Joe's supermarket in New York City.Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
  • A leading union criticized the new CDC mask guidance amid rising COVID-19 cases in frontline workers.
  • The UFCW called the rules allowing vaccinated people indoors without masks "confusing."
  • The rules could turn grocery and retail workers into the "vaccination police," it said.

The largest private-sector union in the country has slammed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new mask guidance for vaccinated people, saying that the rules are "confusing" and could make frontline retail and grocery workers the "vaccination police."

The CDC announced much looser mask guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans Thursday, allowing them to drop their masks indoors and stop social distancing.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) said that the new guidance could put its 1.3 million members in danger. Frontline workers already face unvaccinated people who refuse to wear masks, the union said.

The trade association for the retail industry also said that the guidance puts retailers and their staff in "incredibly difficult situations," because the national policy can still be overruled by local and state mask mandates.

Read more: Anti-vaxxers aren't the problem. Why our plan to get the rest of America vaccinated is wrong - and what we should be doing instead.


"While we all share the desire to return to a mask-free normal, today's CDC guidance is confusing and fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks," Marc Perrone, UFCW's president, said Thursday.

This comes as more and more frontline workers are reporting being harassed by customers over their attempts to enforce COVID-19 protocols, including mask mandates.

"Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures," Perrone said. "Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?"

UFCW said that there had been an almost 35% increase in grocery worker deaths since March 1, alongside a nearly 30% jump in grocery workers infected with or exposed to COVID-19 following supermarket outbreaks.

The union estimated that, since the start of the pandemic, around 462 of its members who were frontline workers had died from COVID-19, including 184 grocery workers and 132 meatpacking workers.


A Harvard University study at a grocery store in Massachusetts last year found that around 20% of staff tested positive for COVID-19, and that employees with direct customer exposure were five times more likely to test positive.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), meanwhile, said that retailers were reviewing whether to change their current safety protocols in light of the new guidance, but that there was confusion between local and national rules.

"Today's CDC announcement on masks creates ambiguity for retailers because it fails to fully align with state and local orders," said Lisa LaBruno, RILA's senior executive vice-president of retail operations and innovation.

"These conflicting positions [between national, state, and local guidance] put retailers and their employees in incredibly difficult situations," she said.

The trade association represents more than 200 retailers, product manufacturers, and service suppliers across the US, including Gap, Lowe's, and Walmart. Some retailers, including Target and Kroger, have already said that their staff and customers will still have to wear masks.


She added that customers should still follow any state and local mask mandates, and that those who don't want to wear a mask should shop online or use curbside pickup instead.