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Union wants Alberta government to limit grocery trips to slow COVID-19 spread

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Western Canada’s largest private-sector union is proposing that people be limited to one trip to the grocery store each week to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among customers and workers.

Tom Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers 401, which represents 32,000 workers, said governments should also bring in regulations that allow only one person per family in a store at a time.

“We’re going to ask for clear rules that are enforceable with fines in a regulatory regime. The fact of the matter is we can’t let these places become nursing homes and it’s just a free-for-all in these grocery stores right now,” Hesse told The Canadian Press.

READ MORE: Grocery store employees are essential during coronavirus, but they’re scared

The union suggests loyalty programs and membership cards could be used to track visits and peace officers may be needed to enforce the regulations.

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While people can be fined for violating social distancing rules inside grocery stores, Hesse said it’s still unsafe.

“I walked down the street from my house and they’ve got yellow tape around the monkey bars and I’m told that if I get on those monkey bars I can get a $1,000 fine,” he said.

“But they’re letting hundreds of people wander through grocery stores. So where’s the regulatory regime?”

Grocery stores adapting to COVID-19 precautions
Grocery stores adapting to COVID-19 precautions

Hesse said the union will be sending an official proposal to the Alberta government and grocery store chains next week and hopes that a nation-wide implementation will eventually occur. He said government regulation is required because self-regulation by the grocery industry would be “the fox guarding the henhouse.”

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An Alberta Health spokesman said there are already plenty of distancing rules in place in grocery stores, as well as hand sanitizer stations and cleaning to maintain high levels of hygiene.

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Many stores have also implemented measures such as one-way aisles and spacing stickers in check-out lines. Shields have also been installed at tills to protect cashiers. Loblaws says on its website that it is limiting store capacity, not doing returns and asking people to pay with cards.

Face masks becoming more common in Alberta
Face masks becoming more common in Alberta

“We recognize the important role that workers at grocery stores are playing during this pandemic,” said Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan, in an email.

“We have taken clear steps to protect grocery workers, while ensuring that families have flexibility to continue meeting their needs during this difficult time. If additional measures are needed in the future, we will take them.”

READ MORE: Do you need to wash fruits and vegetables with soap? Coronavirus experts weigh in

The Federal Department of Labour issued a statement noting the safety of grocery store workers is a provincial jurisdiction.

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“We continue to urge all employers to go above and beyond standard health and safety measures to ensure that workers are safe in this extraordinary situation while accommodating reasonable requests from employees,” the statement reads.

Two major grocery store chains, Loblaws and Sobeys, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.