October 19, 2020

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'Please pay attention': unions issue public plea to protect front-line workers

According to a recent poll conducted by Probe Research, only two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents reported they are self-isolating, adhering to social-distancing strategies and avoiding crowds.

Union leaders representing workers in the grocery store and essential service sectors are pleading with the public to respect policies meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

According to a recent poll conducted by Probe Research, only two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents reported they are self-isolating, adhering to social-distancing strategies and avoiding crowds. Union leaders representing workers in the grocery store and essential service sectors are pleading with the public to respect policies meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

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Union leaders representing workers in the grocery store and essential service sectors are pleading with the public to respect policies meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The verbal push Friday comes in the wake of new polling data in which one-third of Manitobans said they are not practising self-isolation and physical distancing.

"There are many of our members who are extremely concerned about being exposed to the virus on a daily basis," said Jeff Trager, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832. The union represents more than 15,000 members in Manitoba working in the retail, food-processing, hospitality, and grocery sectors.

"Although they’d like to see better protections, given the nature of a grocery store, I don’t know how you can actually practise social distancing properly."

According to a recent poll conducted by Probe Research, only two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents reported they are self-isolating, adhering to social-distancing strategies and avoiding crowds.

About one in 10 Manitobans said they have not adopted any social-distancing strategies — including increased handwashing — since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

As food stores continue to welcome the public — albeit with new measures in place including plexiglass shields, increased handwashing and checkstand markers — Trager said the risk remains.

He said UFCW members are counting on the public to stay home if they’re sick and follow the advice of public health officials.

On Thursday, a 48-year-old man who worked at a Real Canadian Superstore in Oshawa, Ont., died from complications of COVID-19. The news has heightened anxiety levels among front-line service members in Manitoba, Trager said.

"Right now, the biggest thing they are feeling is fear. They know the employers are doing everything they can to try to keep them safe in the workplace, but just the nature of the beast, they are probably exposed to the public more than any other workers now," he said.

The Probe public opinion poll ran March 10-24 and surveyed a random, representative sampling of 1,000 Manitobans. While more people reported practising social distancing as the pandemic progressed in Manitoba, close to half of male Manitobans aged 18 to 34 (36 per cent of total respondents) said the COVID-19 issue is "overblown" in Canada.

"Fundamentally, I believe that they’re wrong in their belief that this is 'overblown' or this is too extreme," Trager said. "If you just asked that amongst front-line workers, you’d get completely different numbers."

Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronsky said she was disappointed to learn one-third of Manitobans have potentially not bought into measures aimed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"Our members are trying to instil it, and making sure that folks are following it, and it is a bit of a challenge, at times," Gawronsky said. "I’m pleading with Manitobans, and Canadians: please pay attention to what’s happened in other countries and make sure that our folks are safe."

Gawronsky said Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. will begin installing shields for cashiers and other policies to promote physical distancing as its Liquor Mart stores remain open.

On Friday, Manitoba reported its first death related to COVID-19, a woman in her 60s who was in Winnipeg hospital. The province had a total of 39 confirmed and probable cases, as of Friday morning.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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