The president of the union that represents workers at the Real Canadian Superstore in Airdrie says employees there and at other grocery stores have expressed concerns about a lack of customer adherence to mandatory masking rules.
In late April, an employee of the Airdrie Superstore approached the Airdrie City View with a complaint they still see many customers each day not complying with the store's mandatory masking policy, and a lack of enforcement by staff.
Thomas Hesse, the president of UFCW Local 401, says that employees’ concerns and frustrations are common among grocery store workers.
“I have spoken with some employees from that store, and others, about that issue,” he said. “Employees in Airdrie and other stores have told us a customer will wander through without a mask. Cashiers tell me customers will come in without a mask, they won’t be stopped and they’ll lean around the Plexiglas.”
The issue of non-compliance for mandatory masking led UFCW Local 401 to send a letter to all major grocery retailers on April 22. The letter indicated some of the union's representatives have filed grievances with their employers over the lack of adherence to the rule.
“We continue to hear disturbing accounts from our members about customers who enter your stores without masking,” the letter stated. “While we appreciate that we are seeing some scrutiny at front entrances, it appears as though there is no actual enforcement. Customers are simply not restricted from entering stores.”
The Alberta government implemented a province-wide mandatory mask requirement in December 2020. According to alberta.ca, masks are mandatory in all indoor workplaces and facilities outside the home, except when working alone in an office or a safely distanced cubicle, when a barrier is in place, or in rental accommodations used as private residences.
The requirement applies to all employees, customers, visitors, delivery personnel and contractors, and includes any locations where employees are present in person.
Now more than year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Hesse said the scientific reasoning behind the health benefits of wearing a mask in public is clearer than at the start of the pandemic, when medical opinions were less concrete.
“The science has grown and so has the body of knowledge about this,” he said. “There’s a clear scientific consensus that masks protect people.”While Hesse believes public acceptance with mandatory masking is higher now than it was six months or a year ago, he noted enforcement has slacked in some public places, such as grocery stores. He added employees are often afraid to confront customers who are not wearing a mask.
“They’re afraid to speak up and don’t want to get into an argument with customers,” he said, adding it should be the responsibility of corporations and store management to ensure customers abide by their policies.
With escalating case numbers in Alberta and the arrival of variant strains of COVID-19 that are more contagious than the original, Hesse said it is more important than ever to abide by masking policies.
“When people wear a mask, it probably creates some psychological comfort as well,” he said. “These workers are going to work everyday with a pit in their stomach. Eighty per cent of workers tell us they’re scared to go to work, because they’re in these very public places.”
When reached for comment, management of the Airdrie Superstore directed the Airdrie City View's requests to the company that owns Real Canadian Superstore – Loblaws Companies Ltd. The Airdrie City View’s efforts to reach Loblaws’ public relations department were unsuccessful before press time.