Statement from President Kim Novak on Protecting Workers from Violence and Harassment

For nearly two years now, front-line workers in grocery and retail stores, pharmacies, industrial food processing plants, cannabis stores, and home and community support have diligently followed all public health laws while continuing to serve the public during a global pandemic. 

The pandemic hasn’t been easy on anybody, but those on the front lines have been steadfast through this relentless crisis. And while the vast majority of the public has shown respect and gratitude for their incredible work and public health orders, alarmingly, there have been segments of the public who have refused to follow public health orders, putting our members’ health and safety at risk. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on, this segment has grown, leading to increased reports of unacceptable behaviour towards the front-line workers that UFCW 1518 represents.

Front-line workers have experienced abuse, harassment, and even assault at the hands of members of the public. Their personal safety has been compromised by people who refuse to wear masks, who refuse to keep distance, who mock or intimidate those who are wearing masks. They have taken their frustrations out on the working people who are just doing their best. 

These acts of harassment and violence do not merit tolerance, and they should be swiftly and decisively addressed. No worker in this country should be subject to unsafe work; the right to refuse is a fundamental tenet of our workplace safety laws. 

An individual’s discomfort does not trump the rights of others. UFCW 1518 members wear masks for their entire shift. Wearing a mask for the short time you’re shopping or receiving medical care is a small and necessary inconvenience, not a violation of anyone’s rights (unless you have a valid medical exemption). 

While UFCW 1518 members have witnessed unacceptable behaviour, we have also seen Canadians come together through this pandemic. Over 89% of Canadians who are eligible to be vaccinated HAVE been vaccinated. Because so many Canadians have chosen to follow public health recommendations, we have seen hospitalizations rates decline and we are now seeing restrictions begin to lift. 

Any extremist movement that causes disruption throughout the country, including levelling abuse at front-line workers, is putting their personal preferences over the rights of workers and everyone else to be healthy and safe. These actions against workers have not helped to bring the pandemic to an end. 

In the coming days, it is critically important that we continue to follow public health orders and treat front-line workers with the respect and dignity they deserve. As restrictions lift, we must continue to put the health, safety and rights of front-line workers first.

As their union, UFCW 1518 will do everything in its power to protect these workers from unsafe conditions and intolerable behaviour from the public.