To Our Community,
I have one message for you today, and it is a critical one.
A few days ago, the CDC released a new set of broad and somewhat vague guidelines regarding the use of masks. The announcement caused a great deal of elation and confusion. Let me take the opportunity today to clarify our position so that it is crystal clear. In the process, I would like to offer a few reflections from the past 15 months.
First, remember that in my very first email to employees, dated 3/17/20, I made the following promise: “I pledge to you that we are going to go above and beyond and do everything we can to take care of our employees and their families.” I have written more than 125,000 words to our employees and shoppers since then, but that simple statement has been the guiding force behind every one of them.
Safety is paramount, and it dictates every decision we make.
Second, our leadership on this issue is indispensable. Remember, we are an essential community resource. If one of our stores, or multiple stores, were to close for an extended period of time due to a COVID-related outbreak, it would have a devastating impact on our communities. It is up to us, through action and example, to take that seriously. We lead from the front, not from the rear.
Third, we are temporary occupants of this cooperative. Despite the ebb and flow of what we see on the news and in social media, it is up to us to leave this business as strong, and ideally stronger, than we found it, no matter what challenges come our way.
With that in mind, I am writing today to reiterate the following:
We are making no changes to our COVID-19 safety policies. Period. This includes our simple guideline on masks: No Mask, No Entry, No Exceptions.
If others push for a rush to normalcy, that is fine. At our Co-op, we will proceed in a calculated and deliberate manner, always out of an abundance of caution.
To enforce our policies, we will continue to give our shoppers the benefit of the doubt and remind them of our policies with the utmost kindness and consideration. But no one should confuse kindness for weakness. We will not tolerate abusive behavior toward our employees.
To that end, our policy with shoppers also remains the same:
- Anyone in our stores without a mask will be asked to wear one. Our Service Desks are happy to provide them. People with respiratory issues can wear a face shield rather than a mask.
- If a shopper refuses, employees will elevate, not escalate, the situation. This means a manager will intervene, and the shopper will be given a total of three opportunities to comply.
- On the third refusal, the police will be called and the individual will be escorted off the premises by our local law enforcement partners. No additional chances will be given. We have done this before and will not hesitate to do it again.
Sadly, the CDC message caught on like wildfire before the nuances of the message could be understood. What were those nuances? Among other things, the CDC’s recommendations for businesses have not changed. The announcement was very clear that people who work in close spaces should wear a mask even if fully vaccinated. The announcement further stated their guidance does not supersede any requirement that a business may have in place to protect their employees and their customers. In other words, all businesses have a right to establish and enforce safety policies as they see fit and can refuse service to anyone who does not follow them. And businesses that employ front-line workers who provide vital community services have the highest need for aggressive safety policies.
I suspect in this regard the CDC is being guided by Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act—aka, the “General Duty Clause”—which requires an employer to furnish to its employees, “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees …” This is why our safety policies exist.
Look, none of us wants to wear a mask any longer than necessary. But our policies have worked. I encourage you to take a look out our COVID-19 dashboard, which we launched to track the number of cases and to provide a transparent platform for making the information available to the public. In 15 months, only 2 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 while at work. And not a single employee who was in close contact with affected individuals subsequently tested positive. This is a remarkable metric given 15 months of operating a business during a pandemic.
I recognize these are tough issues and tough times. People have many different viewpoints, which I respect. But I expect our policies to be respected as well. Nationwide, only 37 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Those numbers are a bit higher in Vermont and New Hampshire, but we are still far from a safe environment. I am hell-bent on my promise to keep our employees safe. I am not backing away from that promise now.
As always, I thank all of our members and shoppers for the continued support. The vast majority of our shoppers take great care to follow our policies to the letter and to show appreciation and respect to the employees who must enforce them. If you have questions or feedback on any of this, reach out to me anytime. In the meantime, remember to be kind to one another and to yourselves. We look forward to serving you in our stores and at the curbside.
Onward and upward,