Barnhart Calls on Wegmans to Allow Workers to Wear PPE

County Legislator Rachel Barnhart sent the following letter to the Wegman Family.

March 28, 2020

Dear Wegman Family,

I want to start by applauding your efforts inside your store, including hand sanitizer stations, line control and sneeze guards. These actions, however, do not go far enough to ensure the safety of my constituents who are employees.

Monroe County’s health commissioner said COVID-19 is “widely prevalent” in our community. Yet Wegmans is not allowing its workers to wear facial masks. This ban applies even to workers who are at high risk for suffering complications from COVID-19.

Workers have given me several reasons Wegmans won’t allow them to wear masks.

First, they’ve been told the company does not want to scare customers. I went shopping at the East Avenue store today. You would not know there was a pandemic. Masks are an important signal to the public that we must take precautions, which few customers and employees were doing. Furthermore, your ban also applies to warehouse workers, who have no interaction with the public.

Second, workers have been told that masks need to be reserved for healthcare workers. While Wegmans should consider providing equipment to essential employees, at least Tops, Kroger, Giant Food and Brookshire’s are allowing workers to wear their own.

Third, workers have been told regular people don’t know how to wear masks. Perhaps Wegmans should trust their workers’ intelligence and provide resources to show them how to properly wear equipment.

Finally, Wegmans has told workers masks will not protect them. You are withholding information from your employees. This top-down government messaging is driven by the shortage of masks. There is no scientific evidence that masks hurt, but there is evidence that masks help. Studies showed masks reduced infection of SARS in 2003. Asian countries encourage mask-wearing. Many health experts believe it is time for essential workers to wear masks, because the coronavirus is widespread.

Clearly, Wegmans acknowledges the risks faced by workers because you are in installing sneeze guards at registers, but this won’t be done overnight and nor will it protect all workers who come in regular contact with the public.

Here’s what everyone agrees upon – people with health problems should wear masks. It’s shocking that Wegmans has given these workers the choice of working without protection or going home without pay. (I am still waiting for a response to my March 19 letter asking about paid leave and work from home policies.)

The bottom line is that Wegmans has enacted a policy that puts employees at risk for the sake of appearances. Please allow your workers to wear personal protective equipment immediately.


Rachel Barnhart