The return of hero pay long ago, fragile grocery workers say


Retailers say Canada’s merchants’ refusal to reinstate “hero pay” has made them feel forgotten and unappreciated as the Omicron wave leaves many stores short of staff and shoppers fill up.

More grocery workers say they are busier than ever with more employees reporting sick in the last two weeks than during the entire pandemic.

They say that customers are also once again “clearing the shelves” and filling up with food, which increases the workload in the stores.

Tammy Laporte, a full-time grocer in a grocery store, says the last two years have been the toughest of her 23-year career.

She says it is an “endless struggle” to keep the store running while adhering to increased cleaning requirements and enforcing public health measures.

Laporte says the grocery chains’ decision not to bring back the $ 2 hourly wage increase is “insulting”.

They took the bonus away, but COVID never went away– Grocery employee Karen Lobb

“It made us feel valued,” she said of the wage premium that Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys offered workers during the first wave of COVID-19.

“It made us feel like the employer was worried and as if they understood the risks we were facing.”

Despite working with a major grocery store for more than two decades as a full-time employee, Laporte says the pandemic bonus brought her salary “on the edge of a living wage” for the first time.

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“The $ 2 an hour increase may not seem like much, but at the end of the day, it made a big difference.”

Last week, Unifors National President Jerry Dias and NDP MP Brian Masse also called for the reinstatement of extra pay for retail workers under the increased risk of the Omicron wave.

No plans to pay more yet

Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

While merchants offered a mix of bonuses, gift cards or other benefits during the ensuing waves of the pandemic, no one seems to be offering any extra pay as a result of the Omicron rise.

However, the Sobeys have committed to reintroducing its “hero pay” when regions or provinces go back into lockdowns that shut down all non-essential retail.

Karen Lobb, who has worked in a grocery store for 27 years, said workers would appreciate a recognition of the risks they face when going to work every day.

“They took the bonus away, but COVID never went away,” she said. “We have never closed, we have not stopped.”

Lobb added: “We lack staff and some of us are working longer hours to make up for it. Some recognition would be nice.”

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