Unifor demands pandemic pay and vaccine access for grocery workers

Paid sick days; less sick people.

April 21, 2021

TORONTO – Unifor is demanding pandemic pay and priority vaccine access for workers at grocery stores and warehouses, as COVID-19 case numbers skyrocket and cases of the more contagious variants of concern increase.

“It’s shameless that grocery giants like Loblaws and Metro refuse to reinstate pandemic pay for these frontline workers, who continue to face the risk of going to work when many are at home in lockdown in various regions of the country,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “How in good conscience can billionaire Galen Weston and the boards of these companies deny the fairness of pandemic pay as they rake in massive profits on the backs of predominantly part-time, low-wage essential workers?”

Unifor members are presently experiencing COVID-19 workplace transmission in grocery stores, with multiple confirmed cases among workers, but are still denied danger pay or accelerated access to vaccination.

While Unifor recognizes Empire Company Ltd. for reinstating pandemic pay to workers at its Sobeys, Longos, Foodland, FreshCo, Farm Boy, Voila by Sobeys, some IGA locations, and warehouses in regions with stay-at-home orders, the move fails to recognize the genuine risk to all of its frontline retail workers.

Metro has also fallen short, opting instead to provide employees with store gift cards. Both Metro and Loblaw Companies Ltd. have repeatedly refused to reinstate pandemic pay, provided for 12 weeks at the start of the first wave of COVID-19 by most major grocery chains.

In June 2020, Unifor opposed the decision by Canada’s largest grocers to end pandemic pay of $2 an hour for employees. The union launched the Fair Pay Forever campaign to call for historic inequities in the sector to be corrected.

“To add insult to injury, these are corporations that refuse sick pay for the vast majority of employees while they rely on a part-time workforce tied to a minimum wage strategy to avoid committing to decent full-time jobs,” said Dias. “Loblaw likes to point the finger at Walmart and others to justify their race to the bottom strategy, yet Galen Weston still finds a way to pay himself, his executives and his shareholders vast amounts of money.”

Unifor is calling on provincial governments to expedite the vaccination of all essential workers, including grocery store and warehouse, to reduce the risk to these frontline COVID-heroes and to the communities they serve.

“These workers have to go to work so we can eat. Full stop. Period. They are the definition of essential yet they are not being prioritized for vaccination,” Dias said.

The union urgently seeks the expansion of frontline and essential workers eligible to receive the vaccine and for paid time off for workers to receive their shots.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector and represents 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.