Letter sent to major retailers on mandatory masking

Today, UFCW Local 401 sent the following letter to all major retailers in Alberta on the issue of mandatory masking:

We continue to hear disturbing accounts from our members about customers who enter your stores without masking. While we appreciate that we are seeing some scrutiny at front entrances, it appears as though there is no actual enforcement. Customers are simply not restricted from entering stores.

The law is clear. Masks must be worn. The science is clear. A failure to mask creates a serious risk. The situation has worsened with the appearance of aggressive variants. It is bad enough that you are failing in your obligation to provide a safe work environment – It adds insult to injury when employees who exercise their right to refuse unsafe work are chastised or disciplined. No employee can be required to serve or interact with a customer without a mask. Surely, we can agree on that.

Please confirm that you share our view. Again, no employee is required to interact with or share space with any unmasked customer in any way.

If we are not in agreement, please advise.

Some of our Representatives have filed grievances with you or with other retail employers on this issue. Employees have been disciplined or criticized for allegedly refusing to provide service to an unmasked customer. We also assume that you acknowledge an employee right to refuse unsafe work in these circumstances. It is not only reasonable to conclude that this type of work is unsafe, but the objective truth is also unquestionable.

We urgently seek your immediate reply.

We will leave you with one of the many troubling stories that we are personally aware of. We recently spoke to a cashier who is pregnant with twins. She described to us, in detail, that she found herself trapped at a check stand with an aggressive, unmasked customer leaning past the plexiglass into her personal space. She plead with us to ask retail employers to clarify her rights and to enforce masking rules. She was terrified and unnerved.

Finally, we inquire about the following related topics.

  1. Have you made efforts to review the appropriateness of your current plexiglass configurations? Some employees are complaining that they are not adequate.
  2. Have you configured your lunchrooms to ensure social distancing with plexiglass barriers?
  3. Have you reviewed sick pay provisions to ensure pay for workers? We are anxious to discuss that with you.
  4. Notwithstanding the Government’s announcement to pay workers for 3 hours for vaccine appointments, have you considered expanding that to at least 4 hours?
  5. Do you have anything new to report regarding the Critical Worker benefit and are you choosing to expand it so it does not discriminate?
  6. Have you studied and considered reinstating pandemic pay? We note that the City of Seattle is ensuring that retail workers receive an extra $4.00 per hour.

Thank you.


Thomas Hesse, President
Richelle Stewart, Secretary Treasurer
UFCW Local 401