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Buffalo grocery store shooting shows we need to better protect workers

Thursday, May 26, 2022

This editorial was written for Newsday by LI Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO President John Durso

Earlier this month, we watched another tragedy develop in which a gunman entered a public space and took innocent lives. This time, Black employees and shoppers were targeted at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, where 10 people, including four Tops employees — one of whom was a member of UFCW Local 1 — were shot and killed in an act of racist domestic terrorism.

Grocery workers have already had an incredibly challenging two years navigating their own health and safety on the front lines of the pandemic. They are the people we rightly hailed as heroes, the essential workers we depended upon to make it through the worst of the pandemic. The last thing they should have to worry about now is an armed individual with a motive coming into their workplace.

This shooting was another preventable act of gun violence. In 2021, there were at least five separate incidences of gun violence in supermarkets across the country. The deadliest shooting of 2021 left 10 dead at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. My union, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, lost one of our own last April, after a gunman opened fire at a Stop & Shop in West Hempstead and killed longtime member Ray Wishropp.

People shouldn't go to work thinking there is a chance they won’t come home. They shouldn’t have to think about the possibility of deadly violence occurring at their workplace. It is critical that this trend does not continue. We need to be doing more to protect working people.

I’m not saying we must take guns away — but more needs to be done to monitor extremism, misinformation, and people who pose a risk to the safety of our society. The Buffalo shooter had already been investigated for making threatening statements about wanting to carry out a mass shooting last year. Statements like that should have been a clear sign that this was someone who should not have been allowed to legally purchase a gun.

Gun violence is endemic in our country. We must call on elected officials on the state and federal level to establish common sense gun legislation, including universal background checks, and we must do a better job of policing ghost guns and high-caliber assault rifles. According to the FBI, there were 40 active shooter incidents in 2020, the highest rate in two decades. Twenty-four were in “commerce-related environments” including supermarkets, gas stations, and convenience stores.

We cannot continue to stand by and allow these senseless, preventable acts of violence to occur. Our elected officials must listen to the constituents who voted them into office and move to ensure that no more lives are taken because people who shouldn’t be allowed to purchase guns can walk into a gun shop and buy a deadly weapon without an issue.

Our hearts break for the families of those who lost their lives in the Buffalo shooting, and our brothers and sisters at UFCW Local 1 whose members worked at the Tops supermarket and provided a key service to their community. We know that moments of senseless violence will leave an impact on their families and communities for a long time to come.

This guest essay reflects the views of John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor and of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW.