Manitoba

Grocery stores stepping up safety measures, including protective screens, amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Many grocery store cashiers and shelf stockers are unexpectedly finding themselves on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic— and some companies have stepped up measures to try to protect them.

Union for more than 100,000 grocery store employees says they should be considered front-line workers

Grocery stores are stepping up measures to keep shoppers and cashiers safe, including asking customers to practise social distancing, and even installing Plexiglas shields. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

With grocery stores among the dwindling number of businesses still open to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies have stepped up measures to try to protect their cashiers and shelf stockers.

At Dino's Grocery Mart in Winnipeg, new Plexiglas windows have been installed to separate cashiers from customers.

"Once the cases started increasing all over the world, it's a good idea to have this thing in front of the cashier," said manager Rajan Varma. "At least my cashiers feel protected so they can feel safe and come to work."

There's also a line marked on the floor at Dino's checkout, to encourage customers to keep a safe distance from each other.

Varma also says Dino's, like many other grocery stores across the country, has stepped up cleaning and reduced its opening hours. 

"That also gives us more time to sanitize the whole store and keep everything ready for the next business day."

Rajan Varma, manager of Dino's Grocery Mart in downtown Winnipeg, says he hopes the extra measures help shoppers and employees feel safe. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Despite these measures from grocery stores across Canada, the virus is still spreading. Loblaw confirmed yesterday an employee at a Superstore in Oshawa, Ont., had tested positive for COVID-19.

A union that represents more than 100,000 grocery store employees across the country said they should be treated as front-line workers, and be given all the masks and hand sanitizer they need to stay safe.

"I think they feel like they're being protected as much as they possibly can," said Jeff Traeger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832.  

"I think workers are seeing their employers react. And we're trying to work with those employers as much as possible."

The screens are intended to provide some protection to cashiers, who are in close proximity to customers. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Varma said he would like to see the province of Manitoba step in and ensure grocery stores are supplied with masks and sanitizer, as it's near impossible to purchase it for his employees right now.

Like Varma, other grocery store chains are also moving toward Plexiglas shields — a move in the right direction, Traeger says.

"If you walk through a till at a grocery store, the customer is well within that two-meter radius."

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The union said grocery stores are making huge profits during the pandemic, while employees are working flat out. Every employee at a grocery store should be making at least $15 an hour, Traeger said.

Some employers have bumped pay for grocery store workers. Empire — which operates Safeway, Sobeys and IGA, among other brands — launched a temporary "hero pay program" for workers, who will receive an additional $50 a week.

Empire employees who work more than 20 hours a week will receive an additional $2 premium for every hour they go over that line. The pay bump is retroactive to March 8.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., whose brands include Shoppers Drug Mart, Superstore and No Frills, announced a 15 per cent raise for its store and distribution centre employees, also retroactive to March 8.

Grocery store employees are "under an incredibly amount of stress," Traeger said.

'We have pretty much every organization telling us to stay home. And these folks are going to work in probably the largest gathering of crowds that are going on in our society right now," he said.

"They're being exposed to potentially hundreds and hundreds — if not [in] some of the larger stores, thousands — of different people every day."

WATCH | How grocery stores are stepping up safety measures:

With grocery stores among the dwindling number of businesses still open to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies have stepped up measures to try to protect their cashiers and shelf stockers. 2:14

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca