We have 32,000 members who work for dozens of employers across the Alberta economy. The COVID-19 challenge – in our workplaces and in our communities – can’t be met in a uniform way. We’ve been working around the clock to ensure our members are safe, supported, and have economic security through this crisis.
UFCW Local 401 asks employers to think twice before adopting Jason Kenney’s plan to eliminate sensible and still necessary health and safety rules
UFCW Local 401 has been studying the proposed easing of health restrictions and the impacts this could have on the province’s workplaces. We are both worried and concerned about the proposed course of action.
We continue to hear from our members about serious risks and troubling behaviour they are encountering on a daily basis. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas in combatting COVID.
After preliminary consultation with medical experts, we are of the view that employers should act with caution to ensure the safety of their employees and the general public.
Different individuals are faced with a variety of factors and vulnerabilities when protecting themselves against the pandemic. We have members who have grappled with pre-existing and underlying health issues while trying to stay safe from this virus. Others are thinking about immune-compromised family and have worried about bringing the virus home.
While vaccination rates have increased, not everyone in the province will be vaccinated by July 1. Nor will every individual in Alberta even agree to be vaccinated.
We cannot and should not become the Wild West of COVID restrictions by arbitrarily flicking a switch on Canada Day.
The concerns of our members are particularly pointed. They have experienced outbreaks in more than half the grocery stores in which they work. UFCW Local 401 has had to fight tooth and nail to get two meatpacking plants temporarily closed during outbreaks.
Cargill continues to stand out as the largest single site COVID outbreak in North America.
Our members work in crowded and confined workplaces. At times, the conditions of their work make social distancing next to impossible.
We cannot gamble with their safety. As we’ve seen, the stakes are far too high.
We understand that employers have essentially been left to set their own workplace policies after July 1, leaving an uncertain future for their workers. Our union’s approach is the same as it has always been – err on the side of caution and place the safety of workers and the general public above all else.
We are calling on all of the employers with which we deal to enter into discussions with our union about these developments. We ask that employers think about the lives of their employees and avoid acting rashly or unilaterally
Our union also believes that employers should conduct exhaustive consultations with health and safety committees and with union members to ensure they are briefed on how their employees feel about these issues.
Medical experts have advised us that all existing COVID-related safety protocols should remain in place for 30-60 days following July 1. There is precedent for this approach as municipalities such as Calgary and Edmonton will continue to have restrictions in place to ensure the safety of residents.
Once at least a month’s time has elapsed, we would invite employers to sit down with the union and medical experts to review the circumstances and determine a responsible course of action moving forward.
Why take a chance with peoples’ lives? An additional month or two of caution is more than worth saving the potential grief of losing one of your employees to COVID.
The Government of Alberta’s plan is untested, and they have made mistakes in the past by trying to reopen too quickly. Highly vaccinated countries like Chile, Israel, and the UK are experiencing troubling outbreaks of new variants.
Simply put: the threat posed by COVID has not disappeared.
Employers should do what is right for their employees rather than holding hands with Jason Kenney as he walks down this dangerous path.
With respect to the right to refuse unsafe work, this is an important right that continues and can be exercised by employees. While the government has made a political decision to ease restrictions on July 1, that decision is not rooted in rationale that is either medically informed or safety focused.
Employees who reasonably believe their work to be unsafe can and should continue to exercise their right to refuse that work, regardless of Jason Kenney’s desire to open things up in order to please his business buddies.
For more information on your right to refuse unsafe work visit: https://gounion.ca/covid-19/right-to-refuse/
UFCW Local 401 will continue to do everything in our power to protect and represent our members as they perform essential work in challenging conditions during the global pandemic. We will not rest until we know that our members are safe.
For information on COVID-19 relevant to UFCW Local 401 members, please visit our COVID-19 Information and Resources page here.