Ottawa·Point of View

Dear gas station customers: Please start taking COVID-19 seriously

Spitting on gas pumps. Wiping snot on pay pads. Reaching around plexigas shields. An Ottawa woman shares her stories working at a gas station during COVID-19.

Attendant says people spit on the pumps, ignore plexiglas shields

An Ottawa gas station attendant says she regularly has to clean spit and snot off pumps and pay pads, sometimes without gloves — and she's fed up with people's casual attitudes toward COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC has agreed to withhold this Ottawa gas station employee's name because she fears losing her job for going public.

People come into my store and tell me it must be scary seeing customers walk in here with masks. 

You know what's more scary? People who don't care.

People who spit on the cash, people who spit on my pumps, people who wipe their snot on the pay pads.

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It's scary when I have to clean it — sometimes without gloves, if the box ran out. The only protection I have at times is the plexiglas at the register, and that's not always safe. As a joke, people shove their hands around it, saying, "Oh well, this doesn't help you much."

I am 23 years old. I work 40 hours a week at a 24-hour gas station. I am the only person in my household making money right now that's not EI.

Gas station attendants are essential workers during the pandemic. But an Ottawa woman wishes customers would be more careful about what they touch while pumping gas. (Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press)

A great job — under other circumstances

Normally, I actually love my job.

I'll have great conversations with my co-workers — they are some of the best people you could ever meet. And of course the job itself — I do enjoy helping people. That's an amazing thing.

Most of the day, I spend in a tiny space behind the cash, finding cigarettes and ringing up chips, lottery tickets and gas. I used to have over 300 people a day come in, many of them regulars who'd look out for me and let me know when the bathroom needed cleaning or a garbage bin needed switching out.

Now, I see barely a 100 people a day. And every day, someone screams at me because we don't carry a certain thing or we only have a limited amount of cash in our tills.

A lot of the older customers, in their 50s and 60s, they take it seriously. They'll come in with their masks and gloves, whatever they need. But it's the younger customers that are like, "No way I'm going to catch this."

An Ottawa gas station attendant who has asthma says she often goes home crying because of fears she'll catch COVID-19. But she needs the work, and during normal times, loves her job. (CBC)

I've had a guy come in and scream at me because I couldn't break his hundred dollar bill. Another woman threw her lottery tickets at me because I couldn't cash them all.

It just makes you want to shake your head when they leave, because it's like, "What am I doing? Why am I here serving people like you?"

I do get some people say "Thank you for staying open." That helps. But more often than not, it's someone mad about something.

It's mostly younger customers who aren't cognizant of the risks COVID-19 poses, the gas attendant says. (Dave Will/CBC)

'Taken for granted'

On top of that, we're still stuck at minimum wage, $14 an hour. I see people online upset that they only get a dollar-or- two wage increase. I'm thinking, at least they get an increase. I would do anything for that right now.

I come home and cry because it's scary to hear what's happening, and how many people are dying because of this virus. I have asthma and I worry I'll catch it and become just another number.

I know that I probably should put my health first, but I have co-workers who are a lot younger than me. Some of them have quit already. The others — I don't want to subject them to the risk of getting sick if I can take the shift.

They call us essential workers, but it doesn't feel that way. Why does it feel like we're being taken for granted?

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