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The hero’s return has long paid off, say frazzled grocers

Retail workers say the refusal of Canadian grocers to restore ‘hero pay’ has left them feeling forgotten and unappreciated as the Omicron wave leaves many stores short-staffed and shoppers stocked up.

Several grocery store workers say they are busier than ever with more staff called in sick in the past two weeks than during the entire pandemic.

They say customers are also “emptying the shelves” and stocking up on food, increasing the workload in stores.

Tammy Laporte, a full-time grocery worker, says the past two years have been the toughest of her 23-year career.

She says it’s an “endless struggle” to keep the store running smoothly while adhering to increased cleaning requirements and enforcing public health measures.

Laporte says the grocery chains’ decision not to reinstate the $2-an-hour wage hike is “insulting.”

They removed the bonus but COVID never worked– Grocery worker Karen Lobb

“It made us feel appreciated,” she said of the wage bonus Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys offered workers during the first wave of COVID-19.

“It gave us the impression that the employer cared and understood the risks we faced.”

Although she worked with a major grocer for more than two decades as a full-time employee, Laporte says the pandemic bonus brought her salary “on the edge of a living wage” for the first time.

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“The $2 an hour increase may seem small, but in the end, it made a big difference.”

Last week, Unifor National President Jerry Dias and NDP MP Brian Masse also called for the reinstatement of top-up pay for retail workers during the heightened risk of the Omicron wave.

Not yet planning to pay more

Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Although grocers have offered a mix of bonuses, gift cards or other perks in later waves of the pandemic, none appear to be offering additional compensation as a result of the Omicron push.

However, Sobeys has pledged to restore its “hero pay” when regions or provinces return to shutdowns that will shutter all non-essential retail businesses.

Karen Lobb, who has worked in a grocery store for 27 years, said workers would appreciate an acknowledgment of the risks they face on the job every day.

“They pulled the bonus but COVID never worked,” she said. “We never closed, we didn’t stop.”

Lobb added: “We are understaffed and some of us are working longer hours to compensate. Recognition would be nice.”