Supermarket Heroes

CJR & DairyCentral studies the grocery industry and distributor trends amidst the global pandemic

Many grocery workers, once hailed heroes, are struggling with anxiety as they continue to go to work as stay-at-home orders are in place. Called essential workers at the start of the pandemic, now supermarket employees are feeling forgotten. The vaccine rollout is scheduled but workers are still eager to get their shots, which aren’t due until mid-June. On top of that, working in hot spots is a safety concern, and some customers are still ruffling feathers. 

Having to work in hotspot areas with no vaccine is a daunting task. Grocery store employees from across the country have been wondering when it’s their turn since before the vaccine came out. 

“I wish I could get the vaccine tomorrow,” said Karen Ekstrom, a Real Canadian Superstore employee in Calgary, who has worked as a cashier for 22 years.

“There’s a lot of stress and anxiety that they have to deal with in terms of going to work. We get reports everyday of workers who are getting sick with COVID-19,” agreed Tim Deelstra, a spokesman for the United Food & Commercial Workers union.

Vaccine administration is set for high-risk, critical and low-risk retail workers in mid-June, reports CTV.

“The second batch of essential workers will get their shot around mid-June. This includes high-risk and critical retail workers, restaurant workers, remaining manufacturing laborers, social workers, courts and justice system workers, lowest-risk retail workers, transportation, warehousing and distribution, energy, telecom, water and wastewater management, financial services, waste management, mining, oil and gas workers.” 

However, officials said that the schedule could change depending on supply of the vaccines.

The Government of Ontario also states “Starting April 20, 2021, select pharmacies across the province are booking appointments for AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines for eligible people ages 40 or older in 2021.”

On top of quicker access to the vaccine, Ekstrom wishes enforcement authorities would patrol stores more often to increase safety as customers continue to push boundaries. 

The supermarket worker has been assigned a responsibility they never signed up for: health & safety enforcement. Not only are they obligated to ask customers to wear their masks properly (or one at all) and keep their distance, but they are also expected to continue to implement these rules to individuals who are terrified, angry or just over this pandemic. 

From one end of the industry to the other: packaging facilities to truck drivers to grocery stores, some customers have been giving the grocery industry a hard time, not making the job feel any safer. 

Fortunately, though, the amount of disrespectful shoppers is 1-2%; the majority of customers do express deep gratitude to their local grocery stores, truck drivers and distributors, for their continuous efforts to keep them stocked safely. 

Grocery store employees are deemed heroes for a reason. They provide essential supplies and food in the presence of a global pandemic and are still showing up despite the risk and having to handle the public in such challenging times.