In the News
Alberta Workers Oppose Government Violation of Rights
United Food and Commercial Workers Outlines Safety Measures Employers Must Take
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 president Thomas Hesse sent a letter to all employers in workplaces represented by Local 401 on January 6, expressing deep concern about the safety of workers in these workplaces and outlining the concrete measures which employers must take to protect workers and their communities. He made it clear that the workers and their union must be involved in taking the necessary decisions, and there is no way the workers will agree to the employers calling the shots.
UFCW Local 401 has 32,000 members across Alberta. Members of Local 401 work in many sectors including meat and poultry, bakeries, grain, oilseed, dairy and egg processing, retail food stores (Safeway and Loblaws Superstores) and warehouses, oil sands work camps, malting and distilling plants, hospitality, residential support services, continuing care, warehousing, and casinos.
Hesse said that an enhanced threat surely warrants an enhanced response. The serious mistakes made when government and employers first responded to the pandemic, which resulted in serious illness and loss of life must not be repeated, he said.
The letter then asked employers to report back as to whether they had taken the following necessary measures:
– Have you had an independent ventilation and air quality assessment done?
– Are you providing employees with masks of a nature and quality that meet the transmissability threat of the Omicron variant?
– Have you adjusted your approach to sick pay and absences to ensure that workers can comfortably stay home if they are symptomatic without loss of income?
– Are you making rapid testing available to your employees to detect and mitigate outbreaks as quickly as possible?
– Are you making arrangements to provide on-site booster shots to staff who wish to access them?
Pending workplace booster vaccination programs, employees should be given paid time off to get their booster shots, the letter said.
The union asks employers to share all relevant data with the union immediately and on an ongoing basis, including the number of workers off sick. The letter stressed the necessity for more frequent health and safety meetings conducted with representation and participation from the union. The union also stressed that rules around employee punctuality should be relaxed due to the severe impact Omicron is having on public transportation, and that retail outlets must enforce masking at the door and pursue customer counts rigorously.
“‘COVID fatigue’ cannot be an excuse to abandon working people whose courage and commitment have kept our society functioning, Hesse said. “We dismiss the threat posed by the Omicron variant at our own peril. Let us not look back at this moment months later and agonize over what we could have done. I say this to you plainly — you need to do something to address this threat and you need to do it now.”
“Occupational Health and Safety law and our collective agreements outline the necessary obligation for employers to keep workers safe. A change in circumstances does not obviate that obligation. In fact, the accepted and troubling evidence around transmissability truly demands a heightened and enhanced response,” Hesse said.
“Our union continues to monitor this matter and is committed to advocating for our members at the highest level and in the most passionate way. We hope you share our approach in pursuing the absolute safety of our members and your employees,” he concluded.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 21, 2022)