UFCW 1518 is calling on all retail employers to increase safety protocols and pay bonuses to front-line workers as the Omicron variant surges across British Columbia.
The union has observed a nearly tenfold increase in reported workplace COVID-19 exposures over the last week. The increasing case numbers are putting even more pressure on retail workers. These workers are struggling to keep up with customer demand while staffing numbers dwindle. Delays and a lack of available testing likely mean that these numbers are significantly higher.
“The strain on retail workers, who have been working through the ever-evolving circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years, is now reaching a new level of challenge that cannot be ignored,” said UFCW 1518 President Kim Novak. “Our members are having to work two to three times as hard to cover for co-workers who are in self-isolation or are away from the workplace due to illness. They deserve extra compensation in recognition of their extra work.”
On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry implored businesses to prepare for the Omicron wave. She stated that “as many as one-third of a workforce might be ill and forced to stay away.”
Union Fights for Stronger Safety Measures
Over the last two years, UFCW 1518 has been successfully campaigning for many COVID-19 safety measures, including:
- creating a province-wide mask mandate
- legislating 3 hours of protected paid leave for vaccinations
- instituting enhanced safety protocols in stores
Many of the workplaces UFCW 1518 represents are limiting customer numbers, providing medical masks, and taking measures to prevent crowding.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in every workplace. Many union members and non-union workers have reported that customer mask-wearing and social distancing have declined.
Multiple workers have told the union that management has made them feel responsible for enforcing COVID-19 protocols like masking and crowd management. At the same time, many have observed that management has not monitored or limited the number of people allowed into stores.
“It’s completely unacceptable that any retail worker is made to feel that they are the ones to enforce public health measures,” said Novak. “We continue to advise UFCW 1518 members that they have the right to refuse unsafe work if there are unmasked customers.”
Union Members Seeking Bonuses, Better Safety Enforcement
On January 5, UFCW 1518 sent letters to several major retailers asking them to take important steps to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. These include:
- Enforcing public health orders around mandatory masks in indoor spaces and using markers and enforcement for physical distancing
- Actively counting the number of customers in stores and limiting to 50% normal capacity
- Reinstating enhanced cleaning measures in stores
- Providing all employees appropriate PPE including 3-layer surgical masks
- Paying bonuses to employees working during the Omicron wave of the pandemic
While many stores have already instituted these measures, other retail locations have been more inconsistent. If you work at a UFCW 1518 represented worksite and have health and safety concerns, contact your Shop Steward or Union Representative. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you do not know who your Shop Steward or Union Representative is.
If you work at a non-union store and need support, learn more about the union advantage at ufcw1518.com/join-us.
Click here to read the letter UFCW 1518 sent to major retailers.