COVID-19: Majority of Workers Feel Unsafe at Work, Reveals Survey

The majority of UFCW 1518 workers do not feel safe at work during the COVID-19 pandemic and want to see mandatory mask mandates for all people entering grocery and retail stores in British Columbia.

UFCW 1518 sent a survey out to members on Monday, November 9, that asked several questions about member health and safety and their experiences working through the pandemic.

The survey found that 61% of nearly 2,000 polled members do not feel safe at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 90% stated that they do not feel safe from COVID-19 at least some of the time while they are working and over 82% of polled workers interact with unmasked members of the public every day as part of their jobs. A further 95% are forced to interact with an unmasked member of the public at least once per week.

“The fact that customers are not wearing masks and keeping distance puts us at risk,” said one survey-taker.

Some major grocery employers have made mask-wearing mandatory for all employees while they are at work but have not extended the same policy to customers or any of the other people who routinely enter grocery stores. Those who have not instituted mandatory mask policies for customers have requested a clear order from the provincial government before requiring customers to wear masks.

UFCW 1518 continues to call on the provincial health office and the provincial government to issue an order requiring masks to be worn in retail and grocery stores.

UFCW 1518 members want stronger safety measures enforced

Many survey-takers wanted to see better compliance from the businesses they work for and more effort from the government to keep them safe:

“The company has cut cleaning and safety measures as well as our hazard pay. It’s sad the government isn’t holding these businesses accountable while they are making more money than ever,” said one survey-taker.

Many members reported inadequate plexiglass installations at tills and other areas where they interact with customers. Others reported being met with abuse when asking customers to observe distancing protocols or to wear masks:

“Mask usage should be mandatory for all public places and regulated and enforced by the government,” said one survey-taker. “We cannot be responsible to enforce [mask-wearing] in the store and be subject to harassment and abuse by customers.”

UFCW 1518 has been working since the beginning of COVID-19 to put additional safety measures in place for retail, grocery, food processing, and community health and social service workers. These measures include restrictions on the number of people allowed in a store at the same time, crowd-control measures like directional signs, and calls for mandatory-mask wearing in retail, grocery, and in-home care settings.

Workers Want Pandemic Pay Back

The survey also revealed that UFCW 1518 workers do not feel that they are being compensated fairly in exchange for the added risk they are taking on as front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. 94% of polled members believe that they should be receiving pandemic pay for the work they have continued to do on the front-lines. This is especially relevant due to the dramatic increase in cases we are seeing in British Columbia.

Many polled workers spoke about the low morale they experienced when interacting with non-masked members of the public for no additional pay: “without hazard pay and the expectation of compliance, most of us feel we are expendable,” said one member who works at a grocery store. “Seemingly, the company feels the value of our lives is, in most cases, minimum wage, while their profits soar. We are tired, verbally abused, disheartened, overworked, and broke.”

Since the beginning of COVID-19, grocery stores throughout British Columbia have been receiving record-breaking profits. These profits have remained high throughout the pandemic, despite fluctuations in the transmission rates.

Many major retailers have refused to reinstate Pandemic Pay for their front-line workers since it was eliminated earlier in June.

UFCW 1518 takes action

In response to the survey, UFCW 1518 sent a letter to all retail employers today asking for the reinstatement of pandemic pay and for mandatory mask policies for everyone entering a grocery store. Letters were sent out last week to all health care employers with UFCW 1518 members asking for mandatory mask-wearing for anyone who comes into contact with an in-home care worker, including family members and guests.

UFCW 1518 continues to call on all employers to reinstate pandemic pay for front-line workers because all workers serving on the front-lines of this global crisis deserve to make a living wage.