April 27, 2020

Mourning for the Dead and Fighting for the Living
on the Day of Mourning

Workers' Health and Safety Depends
on the Workers Defending Their Rights and the Rights of All

• Leaving the Private Sector to Regulate Itself Is Like Asking the Fox to Protect the Hen House" - Letter from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 to Premier Kenney (Excerpts) 

Front-Line Workers Falling Through the Cracks in Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan - CUPE Saskatchewan
Concern over Workplace Safety Inspections and Workers' Right to Refuse Unsafe Work - United Steelworkers' Letter to Ontario Ministry of Labour
Update on Conditions at Northwood Manor - Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union

Mourning for the Dead and Fighting for the Living
on the Day of Mourning

"Leaving the Private Sector to Regulate Itself Is
Like Asking the Fox to Protect the Hen House"

April 23, 2020

Dear Premier Kenney,

The COVID-19 pandemic puts Alberta's food workers at imminent risk. We write to you with urgent concern for the lives and livelihoods of our 32,000 union members and all Albertans that continue to work.

Our members have become sick with COVID-19, and some have died. Recent events suggest that food production has been prioritized over protection of workers' lives. As a result of the situations at Cargill in High River and JBS in Brooks, we have lost faith in the willingness of the Alberta government to do everything necessary to protect workers.

Now is the time for everyone involved to truly work together to ensure the safety of food workers, our members. It is long past time to establish a working group of labour, employers, and health experts to set rules and regulations to protect workers' lives in all food sector workplaces. This should involve a worker-centred approach that emphasizes the experiences of workers in the food processing industry. It should also be comprised of individuals far removed from political and employer agendas.

While public gatherings have been limited and playgrounds are closed to ensure public safety, our members' workplaces remain open. This constitutes an outrageous contradiction. Thousands of Alberta workers crowd shoulder to shoulder every day in meat packinghouses. Thousands of customers crowd grocery stores every day, congregating in close proximity to employees and each other, despite public health orders requiring social distancing.

Your government has referred to Alberta's food workers as "essential," and the public has called them "heroes." But at their workplaces they are treated as expendable.

We've sought to work with employers through good faith discussions for weeks. Some have written good policies on social distancing and issued personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees. Others have been slow to act or resistant. But even with the best employers, there are gaps between head office policy and practices at the worksite, which are now a matter of life and death. It is time for immediate government regulation and enforcement in the interest of protecting Albertans' lives.

We Need New Regulations for the Food Industry During COVID-19

Your government acted quickly to amend the Employment Standards Code to provide more "flexibility" to employers. We are asking for your government to now immediately act to protect workers. At a minimum, across the food industry, all workers should be guaranteed:

- In the case of an outbreak, immediate closure of the workplace until;

- a 14-day closure has elapsed for isolation of all employees
- COVID-19 testing and contact tracing of all employees is complete
- AHS and OH&S officers have confirmed the workplace is safe to resume operations and the union has endorsed that conclusion

- Statutory COVID-19 hazard pay of 1.5X regular hourly rate for all hours worked while COVID-19 remains a risk
- Increased number of paid breaks so workers can wash their hands frequently
- Presumptive status for COVID-19-related WCB claims in the food sector
- Mandatory, weekly workplace joint health and safety committee meetings to identify and mitigate risks and deal with employee concerns
- Mandatory disclosure of all AHS [Alberta Health Services] reports to the union in unionized workplaces
- Employer-paid leave for all food workers who cannot work due to COVID-19
- Government education and support for workers on how to protect themselves, including their right to refuse unsafe work
- Ensuring that no worker loses their job for being too afraid to attend work
- Protection of immigration status so no worker feels pressured to attend work during COVID-19 for fear of losing their status in Canada
- Guaranteed access to health care for employees who have not met the residency requirement for Alberta health care coverage
- Enforcement of social distancing measures and workplace safety measures with daily, unannounced spot checks by government officials empowered to levy significant fines for employers who violate these rules

Provisions Specific to Grocery Stores

Grocery stores are some of the last public spaces where people can gather in large numbers that are prohibited anywhere else. Unfortunately, not everyone respects the risks taken by our frontline food workers. We are calling for the following additional protections for all grocery stores in Alberta:

- Continuous masking for all employees, customers, contractors, and visitors
- Rules for social distancing by customers, enforced by management, including:

- Restricting the number of customers in a store at any given time to a number that truly affects health and safety
- Mandatory proper barriers for cashiers, bakery, deli, and meat counter workers
- Mandatory safety markings on store floors to maintain social distance
- Signs and other tools to educate customers to keep their distance
- In-store audio announcements reminding customers of social distancing requirements
- Closure of self-scan stations

- Bylaw enforcement of social distancing orders in grocery stores
- A ban on difficult-to-clean shopping baskets, and making all pay-for-use shopping carts free, to mitigate customers congregating around carts
- OH&S recognition that aggressive and disrespectful customer conduct in stores constitutes a workplace hazard
- Daily disinfecting of all surfaces in stores
- Weekend closing of stores every two weeks for deep cleaning and to allow for staff rest from the stress of working in hazardous pandemic conditions
- Reducing hours and restricting opening times to prevent worker fatigue
- Major public education campaigns and enforcement of social distancing in stores, with penalties to achieve;

- Grocery shopping by households only once per week, with only one shopper per household
- Respect for workers' safety while serving customers in these difficult circumstances
- Appropriate social distancing is maintained in the store at all times
- Special hours for at-risk customers including store employees, seniors, the disabled, those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, women who have recently given birth, essential workers, and workers with family responsibilities, such as single parents

- An effective and appropriate temperature check system that is properly sensitive to individual privacy issues
- Enforcement of the above provisions with unannounced regular daily spot-checks by government officials.

Millions of Albertans are regularly attending grocery stores -- some for the first time in their lives -- as restaurants have all but closed. Because of this surge in grocery shopping, retail food stores are enjoying record profits. They cannot be left to self-regulate if we are serious about saving lives; the government must step in and regulate these workplaces.

Provisions Specific to Food Processing and Manufacturing

Workplaces in the food processing industry are some of the last worksites in our province where mass gatherings of individuals in close proximity is still permitted. By design, food processing plants feature close social proximity of workers to maximize efficiency. Distancing is very difficult in these workplaces, and special attention is required to ensure safety in this industry. Consequently, these workers should be guaranteed, at a minimum:

- Active enforcement by government officials of social distancing on production floors and all areas where employees interact (lunchrooms, locker rooms, washrooms, hallways, etc.), thereby ensuring that workers are able to work two metres (6.5 feet) apart from each other throughout their working day. This should include:

- Changes to the design of workstations such as the installation of Perspex, Plexiglas or similar material to shield workers from potentially infecting each other
- Reduced line speeds and line spacing, staggered start times, the rearrangement of work and reduced line speeds, and increased line spacing so that social distancing practices can be realized. This must be achieved without eliminating any positions, and decisions regarding shifts, work-sharing arrangements, and overtime must involve the union.
- Making arrangements for safe travel to and from the workplace to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID- 19

- Mandatory PPE provided to all employees, though this cannot be a substitute for appropriate spacing between workers
- Provision of adequate hand washing and sanitizer stations and increasing the number of breaks so washing may become a more routine part of the work
- An effective and appropriate temperature check system that is properly sensitive to individual privacy issues
- Strict screening, masking, and hand washing required of all who attend the employer's premises, including owners, managers, contractors and any other third-party attending the site
- Posting of all COVID-19-related workplace protocols on noticeboards in languages that all workers can understand and maintaining regular communication
- Enforcement of the above provisions with unannounced regular daily spot-checks by government officials.


Leaving the private sector to regulate itself is like asking the fox to protect the hen house. That is why we again request a meeting with public health officials and legislators with appropriate and competent authority to quickly establish clear, enforceable regulations to ensure the health, safety, and financial security of Alberta's workers.


... it is time to move from words to concrete actions.


Tom Hesse, President
United Food Commercial Workers Canada Union, Local No. 401

For the full text of the letter, click here.

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Front-Line Workers Falling Through the Cracks
in Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan

The Saskatchewan government of Premier Scott Moe announced on April 23 the "Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan," which it claims is a "methodical and phased approach to slowly lifting restrictions so that more businesses can open and more employees can go back to work." Below is an April 24 statement from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Saskatchewan, that points out the plan does not take into account the actual reality on the ground for frontline workers.


CUPE Saskatchewan is concerned that the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan does not provide enough clarity when it comes to front-line workers.

"This plan was clearly designed with business interest in mind, and it does not address the concerns facing working families," said Judy Henley, President of CUPE Saskatchewan. "There is no solution for parents who require childcare to return to work, no solution for workers who have exhausted their sick leave benefits, and there is no solution for protecting front-line workers."

Provincial and international shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be a major hurdle in ensuring the province can re-open safely, said Henley.

"Accessing PPE is already a challenge for front-line workers who have been deemed essential. We have heard many concerning reports from our members: employers rationing gloves and masks, employees being told to reuse masks, and group homes running out of essentials such as disinfectants and paper towels," added Henley. "With more businesses opening, how is the Government of Saskatchewan going to ensure that workers are protected and have access to the PPE they need?"

CUPE is also concerned about the enforcement of occupational health and safety measures during the reopening.

"Who will be responsible for monitoring the new exposure opportunities and physical distancing in these newly opened businesses? Who will be able to respond to concerns from workers about violations?" asked Henley. "There are simply not enough resources for WorkSafe Saskatchewan to properly investigate and enforce guidelines around physical distancing and PPE."

CUPE Saskatchewan is the largest union in the province and represents over 30,000 workers in health care, education, universities, community-based organizations, childcare, municipalities, libraries, social services, board and agencies, and many more.

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Concern over Workplace Safety Inspections and Workers' Right to Refuse Unsafe Work

April 23, 2020

Monte McNaughton
Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Ontario

Ronald Kelusky
Chief Prevention Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister at Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development

Dear Mr. McNaughton and Mr. Kelusky,

As the elected leader of 85,000 members of the United Steelworkers union in Ontario, I am writing to you with an urgent request to clarify the role of the Ministry of Labour in this very dangerous time in Ontario workplaces.

Our members work in every sector of the economy, including those parts of the economy deemed essential, like health care, mining and industrial production.

We are concerned about how workplace inspections are being handled, in particular when workers exercise their right to refuse unsafe work or make complaints about workplace safety in the current environment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The overwhelming number of field reports that we have received show that investigations are not taking place on site, but rather by phone or even video. Also, the expectation seems to be that internal workplace processes with employers and the union will somehow suffice without orders or enforcement of such orders.

I am asking you to clarify whether your ministry is directing workplace inspections and investigations to be done without physical site inspections or without writing orders to rectify problems. If that is the case, it is unacceptable to our union and its members, who are asked to come into work, possibly without adequate personal protection equipment (PPE), social distancing or protocols that ensure their health and safety. 'Guidelines' from the Ministry of Health are often not enough, and not necessarily enforced.

If a workplace is deemed too unsafe for an inspector to do their work, how is it that workers themselves are expected to go to work? Calling in the MOL is usually the last line of defence for workers who cannot get support and resolution through the internal joint health and safety process.

Our union is very supportive of MOL inspectors. I know the inspectors want to do the right thing to protect all workers and do their jobs as outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

I also want to remind you of the terrible outbreak and at least one death at the Cargill meat-processing plant in High River, Alberta, where a 'Face Time' inspection gave the plant a passing grade even as the disease was racing through the production line, where workers did their jobs in close proximity to one another.

I am asking that you respond to this request for clarification no later than Tuesday, April 28, which is the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured (and now, infected) on the job.

Looking forward to, and expecting, a prompt reply.


Marty Warren
USW District 6 Director

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Update on Conditions at Northwood Manor

Members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) who have redeployed to the Northwood Manor long-term care home are facing not only terrible conditions for themselves and the residents of the home, as reported in Workers' Forum on April 24, but the fact that the Minister of Health and Wellness has usurped the workers right to have a say in the redeployment, as well as matters of health and safety at Northwood Manor. Below is the NSGEU's update from April 24 on the situation.


NSGEU members were mandated by the Minister of Health to be redeployed at Northwood Manor via Ministerial Order. We now know that other units are being told by management at NSHA [Nova Scotia Health Authority] that if they do not volunteer to go to Northwood they may be mandated to go, as well. This is unacceptable.

The union's position on this issue is quite clear: redeployment to another employer must be done on a volunteer basis, only. To this end, the NSGEU sent a letter to Randy Delorey, the Minister of Health & Wellness, yesterday. The Union advised Mr. Delorey that our legal counsel believes his order exceeded his Ministerial authority, as it forced NSHA to redeploy its employees in a manner that was contrary to the collective agreements that are binding on the Health Authority. Neither the Health Authorities Act nor the Public Service Act give a Minister the power to do that. (Click here to read the NSGEU letter in its entirety).

The Councils of Unions has demanded an immediate withdrawal of the Minister's directives and asked that he advise the NSHA to respect the terms of the collective agreements to which it is a party. The Councils also asked to meet with the Minister immediately to continue to develop a plan that will allow us to cooperatively respond to the situation at Northwood.

As a further update, NSGEU is pleased to report there have been important improvements in infection control protocols and access to appropriate PPE at Northwood Manor since the NSGEU went public with our members' concerns on Wednesday.

There are now educators visible and active on the units our members are assigned to at Northwood Manor, and Infection Control from NSHA has been on site. Charge nurses are now in place on 1 Centre and they are getting things organized. Redeployed nurses say they are feeling supported by their own 8.4 manager, who is on-site and available to help them. Northwood is staffing 2 CTAs [Care Team Assistants] from 7 am to 3 pm and another two working from 3 pm to 11 pm to assist our nurses on 1 Centre, and they are also providing CTAs on 11 Manor. There are still no yellow hazard bags, as all garbage is mixed in the hallways, and Infection Control continues to insist that N95s are not necessary on these units, although lots of other PPE is now available.

Management on these units are being supportive and our members are working hard with the existing staff to help get the outbreak at Northwood Manor under control.

We will continue to fight for the rights and safety of our members during this incredibly stressful time. We appreciate your professionalism and dedication to protecting your patients, your co-workers, yourselves, and your loved ones.

In solidarity,
Jason MacLean
President, NSGEU

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