Faces of the Food Supply Chain
Meet some of the CLAC members who help get dinner to your table
By Cathy Miehm
CLAC members work in many links of Canada’s food supply chain, from manufacturing and transportation, to supply and retail. The lingering pandemic has been both challenging and exhausting for these essential workers.
Truck drivers face long journeys with no access to public washrooms. Retail workers contend with empty shelves and angry customers. In the early months of the pandemic, a shortage of adequate PPE put everyone’s health at risk.
Here, in their own words, members working in the food supply chain describe the impact of COVID-19 on their workplaces and personal lives.
Local 56, steward
Maple Leaf Poultry, Edmonton
The pandemic has totally changed our life, our work—everything. I have an 80-year-old mom and my kids are at home. I’m using more precautions. I’m not going out. If anyone at home is coughing, I call in sick.
My daughter was exposed last year, and I was told to stay home until she got her test results. I was home for three days without pay, because the CRB benefit [Canada Recovery Benefit] is only available if you’ve lost five days or more.
Everything is different at work. Before, we would wake at 3:00 a.m. to start work at 4:45 and had a little time to talk to each other and laugh. Now, we are all wearing masks and face shields, and there is no time to talk.
We used to have water stations where we could go and get a drink, but they have removed all of those as a precaution. Now, if we want to take a drink, it’s a lot more time to go outside and do that.
They use proper precautions and I understand why we have to follow those precautions. There hasn’t been an outbreak at the plant.
But for us, it’s just very hard. We have to talk to supervisors and inspectors when they come through. But face shields can make it hard to see and the masks make it hard to understand each other since it is a noisy area in my department.
It’s very hard just to communicate with each other. But day by day, we started getting used to it.
Local 301, steward
Mayfair Care Centre, Calgary
The pandemic means we now have to do things differently— like wearing goggles and masks while working. We have fewer residents at the dining tables, and they are more spread out. Keeping the goggles on for eight hours is difficult when you’re trying to keep cool and are always sweating.
The pandemic has cut off my social life almost indefinitely. I have tried to cope by video calling people more. On the positive side, I have reconnected with some old friends, which is awesome.
ROBBIE RICHARD HOOK
Local 56, steward
TCL Supply Chain Inc., Edmonton
Material handler and high-reach
Our workforce provides daily logistics and distribution services to grocery retailers across western Canada. My job has not changed; it has only gotten busier.
I think the biggest challenges that I have seen are the enforcement of policy changes that have been made because of COVID-19.
The pandemic has not taken a toll on myself or my family, but I have not seen any positive impacts either.
Local 306, steward
Save-On-Foods, McPhillips Street store, Winnipeg
My job has changed a lot—wearing a mask, social distancing, handwashing, and constant sanitizing of workstations. Interactions with customers are now done from behind barriers.
I worry about catching COVID-19 and how severe the illness might be and whether I might infect my family and friends. The major challenge, especially in the beginning, involved dealing with customers upset at limited supplies. It was a stressful situation for everyone.
Emotionally, it’s been difficult not being able to see friends and family. So many of us have had to post-pone trips to visit loved ones. It has been a challenge just trying to stay positive and know we would all get immunized as quickly as possible.
There have been some positives, such as becoming reacquainted with some of the simple pleasures in life, like camping and hiking.
Local 301, steward, Local 301 Board member
Save-On-Foods, Grande Prairie, Alberta
E-commerce team lead
E-commerce has become a very big part of the job. It was introduced in our store in June 2020, a few months after the pandemic started. We have seen a noticeable increase in e-comm orders since masks became mandatory last October. March 2021 saw the introduction of grocery delivery in Grande Prairie.
There are challenges presented in many different ways, and every person has faced these challenges differently. In our store, we all agreed that the biggest challenge was not having interaction with other people—family and friends in particular. The mask mandate was a big challenge when it came into effect, as well the social impact of school closures.
Personalities, family dynamics, and support structures readily in place play an integral part in how one copes with the stresses that come with a pandemic. I have had to deal with balancing my job and my children’s education from home, potential job insecurity within our household, and increased demand for my presence at work as my department grows. I am trying to deal with this by implementing a healthy work-life balance.
I’ve also seen many positive impacts throughout this past year— increased consciousness of our surroundings, of people’s feelings, and more respect for the needs of our customers and team members.