Manitoba

Retail workers scared by number of unmasked customers allowed to walk in, says union

The union for thousands of grocery store workers in Manitoba is demanding retailers enforce the no mask, no service rule for customers in order to keep employees safe.

UFCW wants grocery stores to enforce simple rule: 'no mask, no entry, no exceptions'

A cashier at one grocery store has been counting the number of people that go through her cash register line without a mask on and it's anywhere from 12 to 30 in a single shift, says the UFCW. (Tzido Sun/Shutterstock )

The union for thousands of grocery store workers in Manitoba is demanding retailers enforce the no mask, no service rule for customers in order to keep employees safe.

UFCW Local 832 president Jeff Traeger says it's troubling how many customers are entering stores without complying with the province's public health orders around COVID-19.

"There's hard and fast rules around no shoes and no shirts, but when people walk in without a mask, they're free to shop and add risk to our members work day," he said.

Workers in retail have few options when dealing with unmasked customers and management is inconsistent with the support of the front-line workers in their stores, Traeger said.

Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union local 832, says members are "extremely, extremely frustrated and scared" by the lack of enforcement on mask rules. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

He sent an open letter to provincial officials and management of several stores, including the larger grocery chains of Real Canadian Superstore, Extra Foods, Safeway, No Frills, FreshCo, Sobeys and Co-op.

The union has become discouraged with the lack of enforcement, despite repeated letters throughout the pandemic urging those stores to do so, said Traeger, noting UFCW Local 832 represents over 8,000 members at those locations.

"We find ourselves 15 months later still having the same reports from our members that multiple people come through their tills every day without a mask and this is, for some reason, being allowed," he said.

A cashier at one of the grocery stores has been counting the number of people that go through her cash register line without a mask on "and it's anywhere from 12 to up to 30 in a single shift," Traeger said.

"And this is right in the middle of wave three of the pandemic."

The stores have UFCW members who work the front doors to control the numbers of customers inside, but they are being told by management that they cannot prevent unmasked people from coming in, said Traeger.

"What they're told to do is, if there's someone [who] approaches without a mask, they're told to offer them a mask. If they refuse to take it, they're told to let them in the store," he said. "That's the problem right there."

A spokesperson for Sobeys told CBC News in an email that the company works closely with all stores to ensure all safety practices are strictly adhered to.

"We strongly recommend every customer in our store wears a mask and we continue to uphold and adhere to the province of Manitoba's directive surrounding masking," the email stated.

"The safety of our teammates and our customers is unwavering and remains our top priority."

Traeger wants to see the stores strengthen their policies from "strongly recommend" the use of masks to straight-out requiring it.

Anyone trying to enter a government liquor store without a mask, for instance, is not allowed to set foot inside, he said.

"It's real simple: no mask, no entry, no exceptions," he said. "And we want the same policy on grocery stores.

"Our members are extremely, extremely frustrated and scared, to be honest with you, that even with all of the [public health] protocols, they're not sure they're protected."

In an email from a Loblaw public relations spokesperson, that company noted the provincial government requires masks be worn in all indoor public places, unless with a valid exemption, and "the vast number of customers comply."

 It added, "our teams work with local authorities in the rare cases that they don't."

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