BENICIA — More employees of Raley’s Supermarkets have come forward with allegations of lax oversight during the pandemic and a culture that does not value the health of employees or customers after a Times-Herald story about a maskless potluck held at the Benicia store on Christmas Eve.
On Jan.13, employees at the Southampton store received a memo that a third employee had been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the Dec. 24 potluck. The corporate arm of Raley’s sends detailed information in its memos that inform staff of COVID-19 cases, including assertions that it is doing contact tracing, necessary cleaning and disinfecting, and is notifying health authorities.
“We have strong COVID-19 protocols which we reinforce in regular team member communications and training,” said Chelsea Minor, corporate director for public affairs for Raley’s. “In addition, we have a dedicated and trained Human Resources team which investigates inquiries and complaints, completes contact tracing, handles leaves of absences, among other things, as well as a safety team that provides support and conducts store visits to confirm compliance with our COVID protocols and to provide guidance and coaching to team members.”
But employees at both the Benicia store and the Nob Hill store in Napa, also owned by Raley’s, say those dictates from on high are not always being followed.
“There is a culture in the company that just never took this virus seriously,” said an employee who wishes to remain anonymous. “People have devoted their lives to this company and they don’t feel protected or respected.”
An employee at the Nob Hill branch said that many employees are scared to speak up about their fears of catching or giving others COVID-19.
“There is criticism of employees who chose to go out (due to fears of COVID-19),” said the employee. “I myself have faced backlash because I am supposed to show up and act like everything is OK.”
The Napa worker also alleged employees still take their breaks in a small back room where no one wears a mask and that there is no structured protocol for sanitizing the store or anyone overseeing how often it is done.
“They use the same rag every time, there’s no worksheet they follow. There are dirty rags everywhere up front,” the Napa worker said.
The employee alleges that temperature taking is “lackadaisical.”
“People come in and they will either remember or not remember to take their temperature.”
The Nob Hill store has told employees of three cases of COVID-19 since Jan. 3 but an employee estimates that 33 people are currently out. Many of the employees that are out were most likely in contact with those people and are quarantining, according to Raley’s policy requiring employees to go on paid leave if they have been exposed.
Both employees outlined ambiguous responses they received from management when they discussed staying home after being exposed to a positive person. They both allege that they were given the option of taking a COVID-19 test but were not required to. They also allege that if they were to stay home for two weeks, they would not be required to have a negative test before they returned to work. In both instances the employees said they felt like they would never be as safe as possible from the virus on the job if people were returning or staying on the job while positive.
Minor said that the stores recently instituted easier access to COVID-19 tests for their employees.
“Beginning last Friday, we provided all Benicia team members with opportunities to get tested for free, which includes a list of resources and paid time to take the test,” she said. She also pointed out that the company’s tracking and reporting “show that Raley’s rate of confirmed COVID cases is less than the rate of confirmed cases in the general population of California.”
The corporate arm of Raley’s has reviewed its safety and COVID-19 policies in the wake of the recent cases. The safety management team, human resources and the senior leadership team, including the president of the company and its CEO, all visited the Benicia store after the first Times-Herald story and others.
On Jan. 6 an anonymous email came to this paper with the subject line, “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” with a link to District Asset Protection Partner for Raleys, Geoff Ferrier’s Instagram. Ferrier handles issues of loss and prevention at stores under the Raley’s umbrella in Northern California.
A Napa store employee alleges that Ferrier was sent out to the store after an altercation occurred between a customer who refused to wear a mask and an employee. Workers at the Nob Hill branch have been allegedly threatened, with one person even having a gun pulled on them after he asked a customer to put on a mask.
Ferrier allegedly asked the employee if he knew what to do when someone didn’t want to wear a mask — don’t push it, and give them a note outlining the mandated info — and said that it is OK to defend oneself if a customer gets physical.
But contents of an Instagram account owned by Ferrier were shown to contain both “anti-masker” and anti-government-oversight of the pandemic sentiments.
His account contained posts against the wearing of masks, including pictures of Ferrier wearing one that said “This mask is as useless as our governor.”
He also had posts that questioned the lethality of COVID-19 and jokes mocking hand sanitizing and social distancing.
Minor told the Times-Herald that Ferrier is “not in a management role and is not in charge of COVID-19 procedures.” Asked if he was involved in the follow-up from a confrontation over masking, she did not respond by press time.
Ferrier also referred to the COVID-19 virus as the “kung flu” twice on his Instagram and used hashtags from two far-right militia movements sometimes associated with white supremacy, “#3percenters” and “#oathkeepers.” Both groups were involved in the Jan. 6 insurgency at the Capitol.
Though Ferrier took his Instagram page down after the Times-Herald notified Raley’s, his Facebook account remains up as of press time and contains more anti-mask and anti-lockdown sentiment, as well as a quote from Thomas Jefferson posted a day after the D.C. riots: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
An employee at the Benicia store said that Ferrier’s social media posts were not surprising and outline the company’s “tone deaf” approach to safety and liability.
The Times-Herald messaged Ferrier for a response. His account was then disabled. Minor did not respond to the question of whether or not Ferrier was a liability to the company.