Third Anniversary of the Global Pandemic

From Westmount to Windermere, our members are speaking out! – President Hesse

Today is the third anniversary of the emergence of the global pandemic. Our members went to work. Our members made sure Albertans were fed. Our members are essential. Bluntly put, our members are heroes.

Our members in health care did the noble work of caring for others. In casinos, hotels, and conference facilities, our members were without work and bore the brunt of economic loss and job insecurity that came with the pandemic. In the camps, union members continue to feel job insecurity as they are threatened by their bosses with take-it-or-leave-it rollbacks. 

Bloomberg recently released a report that nearly half of workers continue to be afraid of being exposed to COVID-19 at work. Workers are also feeling the economic strain of inflation.

Click here to read the Bloomberg report.

Last week I was in Edmonton, and I had the opportunity to visit with our members at front ends, in bakeries, in delis, in floral departments, in meat departments, on sales floors, in back rooms, in produce departments, and in coffee rooms at Safeway stores. As we prepare for an ongoing Wage Reopener Negotiation affecting Safeway employees across the province, I wanted to hear the emotions and sentiments of Safeway members as they performed their duties. I thought I would get a good sampling by visiting some Safeway stores.

Here is what I heard and observed:

  • Members working with the public continue to be worried about being exposed to COVID-19. I met many members who continue to wear masks as they deal with members of the public. There can be no doubt that there continues to be concern about getting the disease and about the risks of long-COVID.
  • Visiting the Westmount and Windermere Safeway stores, union members told me they were very worried about inflation and the rising cost of living. They felt strongly that they deserve a raise. This sampling of opinions mirrors exactly what we’ve heard in broad survey results from our entire membership. Local 401 members are very much “in tune” with the broad societal criticism of grocery giants, their overwhelming profits, and the success of their CEOs. Some told me that they watched Medline and Weston appear before Parliament trying to explain away their greed. Our members aren’t buying it.
  • Many members, especially senior ones, talked about political issues. They are very concerned about what they believe to be Danielle Smith’s plan to dismantle their CPP (Canada Pension Plan) benefits and “experiment” with something different.
  • Union members told me they appreciated having a union that gave them a voice during these very hard times. They appreciated that someone was trying to hold companies to account.

As we reflect on the third anniversary of the emergence of the horrible and frightening disease that rattled all of our lives, I was encouraged to talk to members who were thoughtful, connected to the issues, and showed a strong sense of solidarity with each other and their union.

Additionally, an important hearing will commence in April where we will be seeking significant remedies for Cargill workers who witnessed the largest COVID-19 workplace outbreak in North America due to corporate negligence. Our lawyers are preparing for that litigation right now.

As we approach all of our employers in the coming months to continue insisting that the health and safety of workers be protected and that compensation be improved, I urge all Local 401 members to stand strong and work together for a better workplace and a better world.

On behalf of our Treasurer, Richelle Stewart, our Executive Board and our staff, our Stewards and our activists, I cannot thank Local 401 members enough for their courage and perseverance. By sticking together with strength and solidarity, we will make it through these difficult times.

In solidarity,
Thomas Hesse
UFCW Local 401