Protect Grocery Store Employees

In Ontario Canada and in many locations around the world our government has correctly implemented a state of emergency – asking employees to work from home where possible, closing schools, daycares, colleges and universities, closing bars and restaurants, restricting international travel, etc. I feel that most of us are doing our best at social distancing.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

One of the difficult tasks is ensuring that we all have enough food and supplies to support our “nesting” experience. Grocery stores are remaining open, but I am concerned about grocery store employees – particularly the front line of groceries – cashiers!

Please find below an email from the head of a major Canadian Grocery Store chain:

Hi Everyone,

Things continue to move fast and change quickly.

Earlier today the Canadian Government announced they are restricting our international borders to limit the impact of COVID-19. As each of us try to understand how that will affect our daily lives, our friends, and our families, I wanted to reach out again.

Those who went shopping recently will have seen extraordinary numbers of people in stores, long lines, and aisles empty of product. This was a result of extreme levels of buying as millions of Canadians stocked up their kitchens and medicine cabinets. I’m sure the many photos of bare shelves on social media only increased your level of concern.

First and foremost. Do not worry. We are not running out of food or essential supplies. Our supply chain and store teams are responding to the spikes in volume and quickly getting the most important items back on the shelf. Volumes are already normalizing somewhat, and we are catching up. There are a few items, like hand sanitizer, that may take longer to get back, but otherwise we are in good shape.

Another concern you may have is that your supermarket or drugstore could raise prices on the items you and your family need most. Do not worry. This will not happen at our stores. We will not raise a single price on any item to take advantage of COVID-19.

Some of you may also be worried that your local Shoppers Drug Mart or supermarket could close as part of shutting down certain stores and services. Do not worry. We have been in contact with both Provincial and Federal governments. We all agree that food and drug stores are essential services and we must do what we need to in order to keep them operating and serving every community in the days and weeks ahead.

It won’t be business as usual. But, you will be able to count on us. Our teams from across the country, at stores in every community, have been hard at work around the clock to live up to that commitment.

Please keep in mind our service relies on keeping them, and in turn you, safe and healthy. That is our top priority, and it may mean limiting the number of people in our stores at any given time as well as asking customers to keep a certain distance from each other while shopping to reduce the risk of making one another sick.

We are prepared for this, and to support those most in need, we are opening some of our stores early with dedicated hours for seniors and people living with disabilities to come before the crowds. We are also encouraging those customers who cannot shop our stores to take advantage of our e-prescribing and PC Express options like click-and-collect and home delivery. Last week we lowered delivery prices and eliminated pick up fees and, just like in our stores, we’ve seen a spike in volume.

We are managing the rising number of orders and ramping up our systems as quickly as we can so customers can shop online with confidence. However, it will be difficult for us to meet all the additional demand, possibly limiting availability for people who are sick, in self-isolation, or at elevated risk. So, I would ask that if you are healthy, mobile, and symptom-free, please do your best to make it into the store.

All of us will face uncertainty and new challenges over the coming days. Our stores and our services will be far from perfect. But, we will do everything in our power to make sure you have what you need for yourselves and your families.

As we have more updates we will continue to communicate, online, in-store, and through our PC Optimum app.

For now, let me leave you with four things:
We have the food, drugs, and essential products you need and that supply will continue even as Canada restricts its borders.We are going to make sure our stores stay up and running to serve your community.We will not, under any circumstance, change our actions or prices to take advantage of COVID-19.Please be patient with us when you are shopping, and don’t forget to practice social distancing.Over the last few days, it has been remarkable to witness Canadians supporting one another in our aisles: Bags carried to cars. Crowds parting so young moms could check out. Cheers for speedy cashiers. Customers helping stock shelves.

One example in particular stood out. A few days ago, someone stuck a handmade sign to the front of a store. It reads “Be kind”. This is great encouragement to cap off perhaps one of the most-tense weeks of our 100 years running stores, and to help all of us prepare for what is next.

Be kind to each other. We will get through it.
Galen Weston”

I respect and appreciate the sentiment of this email, we are all doing our best. However, I would like to see some further effort to protect these “Front Line” workers. These employees make sure that customers are able to move through the stores quickly and avoid too much social contact. Even on self checkout counters there are interactions required with customers, as Price Checking, Price Matching and system errors still exist. Cashiers and self checkout helpers must get within breathing distance of customers in order to assist.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I love sales, Price Matching and Price Checking ordinarily, but in these circumstances they are unnecessary. Please suspend these actions immediately in order to protect your employees. In response to the email, I don’t think that you are trying to price gouge me. The other day when I last shopped – I did see that toilet paper was $17.99 which seemed high to me – but this is because the cheaper brands were sold out, and this is a brand that I don’t normally buy – so OK, it’s not gouging…….Seriously though, don’t worry about flyers and sales at this point – worry about supply and reasonable pricing and protecting your employees.

The checkout aisle conveyer belts, the payment keypads and the self checkout screens should be constantly cleaned. I know that currently most cashiers have hand sanitizer and sprays, but they also need time or someone to constantly clean. I’m not sure how this would be made possible, but please innovate on this one. It’s better for all of us.

The cashiers and store employees have no protective wear. I know there is a shortage, but do your best and provide for your workers. Find some masks, eyeshields and gloves please. These employees may be of all ages – but they go home to families who may be over 60 or in compromised health.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Finally, these front line workers typically make minimum wage. I do not normally complain about minimum wage, as there are all kinds of issues as to whether these are student jobs, part time extra employment, etc. It doesn’t matter. These workers are currently risking the health of their families. They don’t necessarily have a separate apartment or separate suite in their homes to self isolate from the rest of their family, so that while their families may be social distancing the whole family cannot. I know that the world needs food and personal supplies. At least give them some sort of hazard compensation during this time.

We know that workers are encouraged to call in sick/stay home if there is any sign of illness and we appreciate that. What if workers just chose not to work because they felt there was too much risk to their health? Would they be reprimanded or lose their jobs? Clearly they should not.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

So grocery store executives, governments, employee unions, I hope that you will innovate and invest to protect your employees right away! – And customers, please stay home if you are sick or have any risks of COVID-19 contact – keep your distance from everyone, including the cashier, please do not argue, hoard and price match today – respect your cashier, buy what you need and be on your way home please and thank you!

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