Letter from a grocery store worker
Ever since it broke out, the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world. It disrupted and pushed lives of many into a state of uncertainty. But for essential workers, the show must go on.
I work at one of the grocery stores in Kingston, Ontario, owned by a big corporate chain. We have been working hard to keep the store well stocked amidst all the panic. We kept ordering stocks in large quantities which we usually only do during Christmas. The only protective equipment we get are disposable gloves. We have a safety tutorial pasted on the wall showing how to properly wear a mask, but we don’t have any masks. Customers keep running into us and we are exposed all the time.
Apart from the risky environment where workers keep getting exposed, the workload itself has been overwhelming. We got a $2 raise for a month for all the increased workload and risk, but the pay still falls short of Kingston’s living wage. At the time of this crisis where most of you are worried about your own safety, many of my co-workers are grateful that they are making a little extra money.
So much for getting labelled as essential workers, right?
I am an immigrant working part time at this moment with no healthcare plan. Ontario’s provincial health insurance doesn’t take immigrants into consideration [they must work 6 months before qualifying for OHIP, and have no insurance with their employer]. If I were to catch the virus and fall sick, I will certainly go bankrupt to access basic healthcare.
I get paid minimum wage and most of my earnings go towards paying rent. Should I really worry about getting exposed or should I feel grateful that I am going make a couple of hundred dollars extra on top of my monthly pay?
We don’t need appreciation from you for working during these times. We don’t want to be labelled as “heroes”. All we need is a better pay – during all times. We need some protection from getting exposed at work and essential workers deserve a better life too. Every single time I glance down the sheet that outlines profit margins per item in my department, I keep questioning if minimum wage is what we deserve. At the end of the day, some of us go searching for cheap grocery deals on flyers of various stores to get our own groceries, because we simply cannot afford them at the very store we work for.
The next time you think about customer service, keep these people in mind. They get paid minimum wage even after working for years and are exploited by the corporate chains for their greed and remember, it took a pandemic to bring these issues to limelight! Give them some space when you walk in to get groceries on your next visit.
*Achilles is a pseudonym. We have protected the worker’s identity to prevent employer retaliation.