By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Apr 17, 2020 at 2:01 PM

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Today the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1473 and Outpost Natural Foods submitted a letter requesting "Extended First Responders" status from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers for Outpost’s employees.

"We believe that Gov. Evers has the authority to make this decision, and we are asking him to take action," says Melanie Bartholf, Political Director and Retail Service Director for UFCW Local 1473.

"We have been working with grocers and food processors, including Outpost, for weeks and communicating their needs to the governor. The safety and protection of workers in these essential industries are paramount. So we’re asking that they are able to get in line behind health care workers to get the assistance that they need."

The joint request with UFCW coincides with Outpost’s 50th anniversary, and follows a stream of similar calls to action by the Union and the country’s two largest grocery chains Kroeger and Albertsons, adding a cooperative voice to the mix. Outpost Natural Foods is one of the largest co-ops in the country, employing nearly 400 workers at four retail locations in the Milwaukee metro area.

"We think first about our own situation and our own staff," says Outpost General Manager Pam Mehnert. "But if you take a look around, there are many grocery store employees who could use this protection. As a cooperative, it’s important for us to stand up for our workers, but it’s bigger than that. Grocery stores throughout the city are providing a service to customers, and we need the tools so that we can continue to do so safely."

Take action

Consumers and grocery store employees who would like to support Outpost and area grocers in fighting for extended first responder status and benefits are encouraged to reach out to Gov. Evers by joining email campaigns spearheaded by both the UFCW and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

Outpost letter to Gov. Evers

April 17, 2020

Dear Governor Evers,

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of our community co-op, Outpost Natural Foods We’ve grown from a tiny one-room neighborhood buying club to a $48 million, four-store, natural and organic foods business with a central production kitchen, employing over 375 people in the Milwaukee area.

Since 1980 the majority of our employees have been members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW Local 1473. The union and the co-op share a common interest in the safety and protection of our workers every day, but specifically during this Pandemic. Our workers have been on the frontlines making sure our community has access to the organic and wholesome foods they need to keep their families well. Our co-op has provided our employees with many safeguards while they are on the job, including:

      • Routine sanitation of the store surfaces
      • Plexiglass dividers at our checkouts
      • Routine hand-washing breaks and changing out gloves
      • Social distancing markers throughout our stores
      • Washable masks, many donated by our community members for our employees
      • Human Resource guidance and resources for making their personal decisions to work or stay at home
      • $2/hour pay premium to assist them in covering additional costs and personal needs related to this pandemic.

Outpost is doing its part, but as we all know it’s not enough, and yet our employees continue to put themselves on the frontline of this Pandemic every day, serving hundreds of patrons entering our stores. They are scared to come to work and deserve to be protected beyond what we are able to provide them.

We are standing side-by-side with our local UFCW 1473, to ask you to assign a temporary designation for our employees as "extended first responders" ensuring they have high-priority to being tested for the virus as well as access to safety supplies that would assist in their health and well-being. We also ask that Wisconsin follow suit with other states that have extended emergency childcare benefits, free healthcare coverage for Coronavirus treatment, paid leave to cover care of a family member, testing, quarantine, isolation, medicine and treatment resulting from COVID-19 diagnosis.

At the writing of this letter we have 40 employees who are unable to report to work due to their own health/compromised status, childcare, or illness. That puts even more pressure on our remaining frontline workers. I urge you to help us and others like us so we can keep our stores open and remain a viable food option for our community, and a safe and reliable place to work for our employees.

Pam Mehnert
General Manager

Additional Outpost Safety measures

In addition to the request for assistance from the Governor, the co-op has been working tirelessly to improve safety for both customers and employees. That includes adding extended special early entry hours for seniors and at-risk shoppers to five days a week beginning at 8:30 a.m. and launching curbside grocery pick-up at all stores beginning today.

Beginning next week Outpost will also require all sales floor staff to wear masks or facial coverings (many of which were donated by members of the community). All shoppers are requested to do the same.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.