November 28, 2020 — This week’s announcement by the Government of Alberta with respect to “enhanced measures” to combat COVID-19 is not enough to change things on the ground for Alberta’s food workers. That said, we need to know what they mean to ensure that there is proper enforcement and protection for workers.
As a union, we’ve been sounding the alarms on the risks our members face from the start.
As in the first wave of this pandemic, a vast majority of our members are facing a difficult contradiction: whether we work in meat plants, grocery stores, healthcare, or northern camps, many of us have been considered too “essential” to stay home but too “expendable” for our province’s policymakers and health authorities to take strong measures to protect.
We have faced massive outbreaks in meat plants and widespread overcrowding in grocery stores. Our members have been laid off and been forced to rely on the federal government to support their families. Our members have suffered through illness, and in a few tragic cases, their families have had to grieve the loss of loved ones who have died from COVID-19.
Through this, however, we’ve learned what we have always known: that strength and solidarity can make a big difference. And we have made a difference by joining with our allies, including medical professionals, experts, and other advocates to press provincial leaders to do what’s right and what’s necessary to keep workers and the public safe.
Under mounting pressure, on November 24, 2020, the provincial government introduced enhanced measures to try to deal with rising case numbers in Alberta. Whether we agree with these measures or not, they will have an impact on our workplaces over the coming weeks.
The most up-to-date and accurate information available on these measures is available here: https://www.alberta.ca/enhanced-public-health-measures.aspx
When considering the impact of these measures on your workplace, it’s important to consider both the nature of the business as well as your location. Not all workplaces are the same, and not all regions of Alberta have been as deeply impacted.
Alberta Health Services is providing a map outlining the status of COVID-19 measures in each region as well as a service where you can be notified of status changes affecting where you live and/or work:
To help you understand things better, we have summarized some of the available information on recent public health orders and how these measures might affect certain workplaces.
Masks are required indoors at all times in all “public spaces” (i.e. grocery stores, casinos, etc.) but only in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary and surrounding areas. These are areas where municipalities had required masks anyway, but the provincial announcement reinforces those measures with stricter fines. Still, Alberta remains the only province without a province-wide mask mandate.
When wearing masks, keep in mind they must cover the nose, mouth, and chin. Our union strongly recommends the use of medical masks wherever possible. While there are some limited exemptions to masking rules, experts are strongly recommending their use. For a comprehensive guide on the use of masks, see here.
Unfortunately, wearing masks has become a hot public debate, and there are some people who tend to feel strongly one way or the other about wearing them. But the fact remains that employers have the obligation to provide a safe workplace for you, and they must follow the law, including all public health orders, like everyone else.
That said, there should be no tolerance for abusive or aggressive behaviour against employees in any workplace, especially on matters related to making your workplace safe. Contact your Union Labour Relations Officer should you have any questions or need support.
Effective November 24, 2020, indoor private social gatherings (i.e. people from difference households gathering indoors for a social purpose) are banned. However, private social gatherings held outdoors with 10 or less people in attendance are permitted.
We note that a “social gathering” does not include an employee lunchroom, for example. Still, we strongly encourage everyone to take every precaution necessary to ensure that every space where employees must gather in a workplace is safe. As always, if you have questions or have experienced an unsafe situation, please contact your Union Labour Relations Officer for support.
Many of our workplaces are subject to new occupancy restrictions, limiting capacity to 25% of the normal restricted capacity and occupant load.
Most facilities should have an occupant load number posted in the building. When you find the occupant load number, multiply it by 25% to determine the restricted capacity of your workplace.
If you cannot locate this number, you can call your Union Labour Relations Officer or your local municipality. For more information on COVID-19 restricted occupancy calculations, see here.
While most of the above rules are pretty straightforward for a majority of our members in retail grocery stores and food processing plants, we note that there are other restrictions of particular interest to our members in the entertainment and hospitality sectors.
Here are some other restrictions that will impact those workplaces:
While the above is neither exhaustive nor comprehensive, we want you to know we are paying close attention to developments and are working on strategies and actions to protect our members in their workplaces.
Nearly all employers instituted some form of pandemic pay in the Spring, but by the Summer, nearly all of them had taken it away. Given that the pandemic has not let up and is now objectively worse than it has ever been, we need employers to bring back this recognition of the importance of our work during this time.
At least one major employer tied pandemic pay to the declaration of a lockdown. To be clear, the Government of Alberta has declared a public health emergency but has refused to declare it a lockdown. Therefore, in spite of our efforts, employers have been refusing to bring back pandemic pay on their own.
The fact is this: employers and governments have shown that they won’t act simply because it’s the right thing to do. They need to be pushed. So let’s keep pushing.
We will continue our work calling for additional protection, on behalf of our members and every Albertan who wants nothing more than to feel safe in their day-to-day lives. Please keep supporting us as we do this. We need your voices.
For more important and up-to-date information on our response to COVID-19, we strongly recommend connecting with us on our social media channels below and through our website at gounion.ca/covid-19.
Finally, please stay safe out there. It’s a worrisome time, but please know that you are not alone.
Thomas, Hesse, President
Richelle Stewart, Secretary-Treasurer
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401
Posted on: November 28,2020