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Grocery chains install checkout shields, raise wages in response to coronavirus pandemic

Alberta grocery stores adapt to help stop spread of COVID-19
Alberta grocery stores adapt to help stop spread of COVID-19.

Update: On Sunday, March 22, 2020, Sobeys announced pay increases for frontline workers in stores and distribution centres as well, to the tune of $50 a week, regardless of number of hours worked. Workers with 20 hours or more a week will get an extra $2 an hour. The increases are retroactive to March 8 and will be reassessed in late April.

Grocery chains across Canada are adapting to the increased demand on their stores during the novel coronavirus pandemic by raising wages for workers and installing plexiglass.

Loblaws is temporarily raising wages by an estimated 15 per cent, while Metro is raising wages by $2 an hour.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Major Canadian grocers to offer special hours for seniors to stock up

In a statement, Loblaws CEO Galen Weston said: “We have made the decision to temporarily increase compensation for our store and distribution centre colleagues by approximately 15 per cent retroactive to March 8th in recognition of their outstanding and ongoing efforts keeping our stores open and operating so effectively.”

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He said the grocery chain’s supermarkets and pharmacies are “performing well” and that this is a way to “make sure that a significant portion of that benefit would go straight into the pockets” of their workers.

Stuck at home? Ideas to stay busy during isolation
Stuck at home? Ideas to stay busy during isolation

Similarly, Metro — which operates around 950 stores, including Food Basics — said in a statement that its employees in stores and distribution centres will receive an extra $2 an hour from March 8 to May 2.

“They work in a particularly difficult situation and have been working very long hours to serve our customers,” Metro said in a statement to Global News.

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“In this context, an additional amount of $2/hour will be paid to these employees for the period from March 8 to May 2.”

READ MORE: Want groceries delivered? Options across Canada during the coronavirus outbreak

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Canadian unions that represent more than 41,000 grocery retail workers lauded the decision and called on more employers to do the same.

“It’s encouraging to see yet another major retailer recognize the important work these frontline retail workers are doing to keep people fed through this crisis,” said UFCW Local 175 president Shawn Haggerty in a statement.

Local grocery store owners say there is no toilet paper shortage
Local grocery store owners say there is no toilet paper shortage

Loblaws has also begun installing plexiglass shields at checkout counters and is trying to acquire more personal protective equipment for its employees.

“We continue to work around the clock to secure medical grade masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves for store colleagues in the face of a worldwide shortage of all three,” Weston wrote in another statement this week.

READ MORE: A look at the math behind social distancing amid coronavirus

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Metro is installing plexiglass protectors at the front end and at services counters in all its stores.

“The work should be completed in the next few days,” the company said.

“We will also implement other measures to reinforce social distance in the next few days including limiting the number of customers in our stores as required.”

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

Sobeys is also installing plexiglass shields at checkout counters. 

In a statement posted to Twitter Friday, Sobeys CEO Michael Medline said the chain is installing them “as quickly as we can.”

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Workers in Sobeys are also washing their hands every 15 minutes and installing floor markers at checkout lines, to ensure each customer is two metres away from another in line.

To make grocery shopping safer for more vulnerable people, Sobeys has dedicated the first hour of its operating day for seniors.

Volunteers helping deliver groceries in Saskatoon amid COVID-19
Volunteers helping deliver groceries in Saskatoon amid COVID-19

Loblaws has also announced a similar move. 

“We are prepared for this, and to support those most in need, we are opening some of our stores early with dedicated hours for seniors and people living with disabilities to come before the crowds,” executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Limited Galen Weston said in a letter to PC Optimum members on Wednesday. 

READ MORE: Flatten the curve: How one chart became a rallying cry against coronavirus

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In addition to Zehrs, Loblaws also controls stores that operate under various banners, including No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, Fortinos, Valumart, Freshmart and Provigo, among others.

— With files by Global News reporter Kevin Nielsen