Worker at Safeway distribution center in Tracy dies from virus

California

TURLOCK, Calif. (KTXL) — Grocery store workers on the frontline of this pandemic have been risking their lives to ensure families have access to food.  

A Turlock grandfather who worked at the Safeway distribution center in Tracy died of the novel coronavirus on Monday.

Pedro Zuniga’s son, Jose Valenica, said he was a devout Catholic and a father who had a stern love for his kids.

“A great dad. I mean, growing up, like any other teenager I was … we were always bumping heads. But as an adult, you kind of understand where he’s coming from,” Valencia told FOX40.

He also had a great love for food.

“Loved … he loved cooking. That was his passion,” Valencia said.

Now the meals Zuniga once shared with his Turlock family are no more.

“You don’t realize how serious it is until it actually hits you,” Valencia said.

Valencia told FOX40 his father started showing COVID-19 symptoms earlier this month after a shift at his job. 

Zuniga’s family believes he got sick from a coworker. They say weeks ago that coworker showed up to work displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

The family claims that coworker later tested positive for the virus, which exposed many employees.

A spokesperson for Safeway sent FOX40 a statement on Zuniga’s death, saying in part:

We were saddened to learn that an associate at our Tracy Distribution Center has passed away due to complications related to COVID-19. Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts are with that associate’s family. This is difficult for the entire Safeway team. We are letting our associates know that if they are feeling uneasy, they can call our Employee Assistance Program to speak with licensed counselors.  We’re working to assist the associate’s family during this difficult time through the Safeway Foundation’s We Care program – a charitable program designed to support our associates during unanticipated financial hardships and emergencies.

SAFEWAY SPOKESPERSON

She went on to say that the distribution center has implemented health screenings, including thermal temperature readings, before employees enter the building. They have asked symptomatic employees to stay home.

They have also started taking steps to keep employees distanced and areas disinfected.

She would not say just how many employees may have been infected.

Valencia implores employers to be more proactive

“It’s hard just because I feel like his death could have been prevented,” Valencia said.

The family says their dad had a fever he never got over and died on April 13. 

His family aims to keep his spirit alive with their shared love of cooking.

“Keep our father’s memory just through the food, what he loved to do,” Valencia said.

Zuniga’s family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral expenses.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said in a news release that at least 30 supermarket employees have died from COVID-19. That number may be much higher since that union represents only a portion of grocery store workers in the United States.

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