As It Happens

Scrapping $2 hourly bonus for grocery store workers 'a slap in the face': Loblaw baker

Grocery stores chains reaped in profits during the coronavirus pandemic on the backs of low-wage workers who put themselves and their families at risk, says Amanda Nagy.

Amanda Nagy says workers should share in the wealth as Loblaw sees profits soar during pandemic

Amanda Nagy is a baker worker at Fortinos, an Ontario supermarket chain owned by Loblaw Companies Inc. She says front-line grocery story workers should get to keep their $2 hourly pandemic bonus. (Submitted by Amanda Nagy )
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Transcript

Grocery stores chains reaped profits during the coronavirus pandemic on the backs of low-wage workers who put themselves and their families at risk, says Amanda Nagy.

Nagy is a bakery worker at Fortinos in Hamilton, Ont., a supermarket owned by Loblaw Companies Inc. — one of several Canadian companies that have scrapped a $2 hourly wage bonus for grocery store workers implemented at the start of the pandemic.

The temporary wage hike adopted by Loblaw, Walmart, Metro and others had been dubbed "hero pay." 

"As the economy slowly reopens and Canadians begin to return to work, we believe it is the right time to end the temporary pay premium we introduced at the beginning of the pandemic," Galen Weston, the billionaire executive chairman of Loblaw, said in a letter to members of the company's loyalty program PC Optimum.

Loblaw reported earnings of $240 million in its first quarter of 2020, an increase of $42 million over the same period last year. 

Nagy co-wrote an opinion piece for the Toronto Star titled, "I Am Still An Essential Worker — Don't Take Away Our Pay Hike." Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Loblaw chairman Galen Weston has said that his employees have adjusted to the "new normal" so a $2 bonus an hour is no longer necessary. What message do you have for Mr. Weston?

I don't think anybody in all of the world is adjusted to the new normal yet. 

We are still having to wear lots of PPE. We still have to go through temperature checks when we get into our shifts.

So I don't think taking away our bonuses is fair.

Galen G. Weston, president and executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Inc. (Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press)

We know what happens to health-care workers. When they go home, they have to be conscious of the fact they have come in contact with all kinds of people. All kinds of people in the front lines are doing that. So when you go home, how conscious are you of the possibility that you're bringing infection into your home?

Very. We're definitely all sanitizing our car wheels. We're taking off our aprons. We're washing our uniforms every day.

Making sure that you change right when you get home, and not being able to hug your son when he's like,"Mommy's home!" And you have to be like, "Wait a second! Wait a second!"

Our health and safety should be no. 1, and we are more conscious of that than ever because we have to bring it home to our families.

What did that bonus mean for you?

For me personally, I have been able to support local business through ordering takeout after working 10, 11-hour shifts. I've been able to purchase some Canadian-made raised beds for some homegrown produce.... I've been able to save some money for the first time since I've been off of maternity leave.

So the financial security is just rewarding. I feel grateful for it. And I've been able to just feel more comfortable and feel more proud of what I'm doing in my career.

And what about your coworkers who are making minimum wage otherwise? What's it meant for them?

I believe that it's meant that they can go pick up groceries and be able to afford their bills without having to choose which bills that they're going to have to pay within the month. I believe that they feel more appreciated by their employer.

The financial security behind that $2 an hour is being able to afford to live — which is a pretty crazy thing that a pandemic needed to come over in order ... [for them to] be able to financially support themselves.

In fact, it's even called hero pay, isn't it?

Yes, and it was advertised that way. And we were in many advertisements of "hero." And then they want to take it away before the pandemic is even yet over.

We're being called essential workers. Well, you can't take away essential. 

And it's interesting you mention that because, yes, it's also in the advertising for the grocery store chains ... this is part of their image that they were giving you the hero pay and you were the front-line workers feeding Canadians.

Yes, and then to take it away before this is even close to being over is a kind of slap in the face. I feel a little bit exploited.

People line up outside a Loblaws grocery store in Toronto during the pandemic. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

But you also must have felt that you were doing something important.

Oh, 100 per cent. 

I enjoy my job, but I've always felt a little bit, I don't know, underwhelming, when you tell people that, like, "Hey, I work at a grocery store." It's not really a career boosting, "Oh, my God. You have an amazing job.".

Well, this pandemic has made it so, "Oh, wait. You make sure that we have food, everybody has food at the table."

So I definitely feel a lot more recognition after it. And I found a new, I want to say, love or passion for doing what I'm doing.

These grocery workers are making sure that our society is somewhat normalized through these crazy times, and we should be able to share the wealth.- Amanda Nagy, Fortino's bakery worker

One thing that ... the executives of the grocery chains have done is that they've united the political parties on the same issue, that they want the executives of those grocery stores to appear before a parliamentary committee and explain themselves.... What would you want to put to Galen Weston if you could get him in front of a panel?

I would love for him to see that his wealth is growing and so should the people that are on the front lines that are making his wealth grow. And all the other executives through all of the other chains. It's not just Loblaws.

The grocery store is a very profitable business. They've made almost a billion dollars last year in profit. When their wealth grows, so should the people that work every day, that come to work, that punch in, that order the bread or make sure that there is enough canned goods on the shelf or stock the shelf.

These grocery workers are making sure that our society is somewhat normalized through these crazy times, and we should be able to share the wealth.

It's interesting you say that, because ... profits jumped actually 21 per cent for Loblaw in the first quarter or so since January, and ... they had an increase in net earnings of $42 million. So how much of that extra money — some of it will go toward stock options and bonuses, I imagine — how much of it was on the backs of you and the others who did this work over these months of the pandemic?

Yeah, and you know what? Like I said, those stockholders, that money is not going to be seen in the economy for years, maybe even decades.

We, as workers, are going to be putting that money back into the economy. And that's exactly what the economy needs. That's exactly what Canada needs. 

Amanda, I will say what I know you're hearing all the time in the grocery store from many customers, and thank you for the work you guys are doing. It's really appreciated. It's hard right now. And it's really noted. So I appreciate it. And thank you for speaking with us.

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate your time. If I could just have one more thing. We have a petition to sign at UCFW 175 for "Keep the hero pay."

I believe that if everybody goes on and signs, that we will have a lot of public support.


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Edited for length and clarity.

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