New COVID-19 Survey Results Released

Local 401 members express mixed feelings about the lifting of restrictions, but fear and deep concern continue.

As part of our commitment to transparency and being a member-centred union, we continue asking Local 401 members how they feel about issues before adopting strategies.

“Union members tell us what to do, not the other way around,” said UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse.

Recently, Jason Kenney lifted a variety of COVID-19 restrictions. This decision affects the workplaces where our members are trying to make a living for themselves and their families. The lifting of restrictions has been broadly criticized by medical experts as being “too much, too soon.”

In a Local 401 poll some months ago, 97% of our members asked us to rely on consultations with experts when dealing with COVID-19. This is direction we take seriously and follow closely.

Through the different waves of the pandemic, we have been proactive in putting workers’ safety first. An independent truck driver who sits alone in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler is entitled to their opinion. But that opinion could vary broadly from the opinions of a cashier in a crowded grocery store, a meatpacking worker processing animals in a crowded environment, older workers, or those with compromised health.

The truth and reality of the pandemic can be different for different people. But it is our belief as trade unionists that it is through caring for each other and collective strength that a better world is built.

In recent times, we’ve been pushing harder than ever for things like enforcement of masking rules and air quality and circulation assessments in the workplaces where our members are trying to survive.

“Local 401 representatives get nothing but the runaround from bylaw enforcement officers, the police, and government agencies regarding things like masking enforcement, especially at places like Safeway and Superstore,” said Union Treasurer Richelle Stewart. “Governments at all levels have been a terrible disappointment to our members. But we remain committed to our members’ safety and have filed grievances against employers on these and other issues related to the pandemic.”

Our approach is based on what our members say. In a recent poll, we heard from an extraordinarily large sample of Local 401 members on the lifting of restrictions. What did they tell us?

  • Obviously, union members are less concerned with the Omicron variant than they have been with prior forms of COVID-19. However, a majority of Local 401 members are still afraid of going in to work. This number pushes 60%.
  • A strong majority of Local 401 members, and especially those who work at Safeway and Superstore, favour mandatory masking for co-workers and customers and continue to insist that masking rules be enforced. They would also like management to provide KN-95 masks to workers. These numbers are well in excess of 60%.
  • Remember when the public used to go home and wipe their groceries off with sanitizer napkins? It has become clear that COVID-19 is largely an airborne phenomenon. That’s why our members care about maskingBut our poll also reveals that nearly 75% of our members want their employers to have independent air quality and circulation assessments done.  
  • The idea of vaccination and workplace rules involving vaccination can be a controversial topic. With our lawyers and other experts, we have engaged individuals who have expressed concerns about getting vaccinatedNonetheless, a majority of our members still believe that public vaccination is a key element in keeping workers safe.

As a matter of surveying methodology, it is important to know that individuals who respond to our surveys more than once only have one response tabulated. Surveys are imperfect, but we work to utilize sound social science methods to determine how our members think.

“Local 401 is proactive in demanding workplace health and safety, consulting with experts and lawyers,” concluded President Hesse. “But most importantly, we always talk to our members to ensure that the positions we advance reflect the feelings of the members themselves.”

Remember, whatever your concerns are, all you have to do is reach out to a Union Labour Relations Officer for help. If you feel that your safety at work is not being protected by your employer, grievances can be filed.