'It's no secret': Union rep says paid sick days, COVID-19 vaccines needed to keep warehouse workers safe
TORONTO -- For weeks, doctors have been sounding the alarm that essential workers are bearing the brunt of new COVID-19 infections, and one warehouse union rep says his members are afraid to go to work.
With more contagious variants taking over and ICUs filling up, provinces have reinstated stricter pandemic measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, but for workers deemed essential, it’s not enough.
“It's no secret paid sick days and compensation for people that need to make sure that taking the proper measures would definitely help curb these issues,” Shayne Fields, president of Unifor Local 222, told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
Often, workers who don’t have employer paid sick days can’t afford to take days off without pay and end up going to work sick, which has resulted in workplace transmission of COVID-19. This has made some employees wary of going to work.
“There's a big apprehensiveness to go into work, obviously,” he said. “Sometimes it's not possible to keep social distance in warehouse work itself. It’s all about the transmission, it's all about potentially catching it themselves and bringing it home to their families and loved ones.”
In Ontario, where Fields represents workers, paid sick days have been a contentious issue with Premier Doug Ford saying the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is enough, and workers saying it’s too little.
“It's the blame game with him and what I've seen from Doug Ford and his MPPs, you know they're putting the blame back on the federal government,” Fields said.
Prior to 2018, employers in Ontario had to provide employees with two paid sick days. It was repealed by Premier Ford’s Conservative government.
“But Doug Ford and his party needs to know that the workers of Ontario will not be fooled, and if he tries to implement something that is insufficient or that is temporary, that won't be good enough for the workers of Ontario,” said Fields.
But it’s not just paid sick days that would help warehouse workers.
“One thing that I'm advocating for and our national union is also advocating for is access to the vaccine for essential workers,” he said. “Specifically for me, I've been pushing for warehouse workers.”
These people have been working throughout the entire pandemic, through lockdowns and various restrictions they’ve been on the frontlines and Fields wants that to be recognized. He said that some employers have made big profits during the pandemic and that they should share the wealth with those who helped build those profits while risking their health.
“Loblaw... generated money hand over fist and they made out very well through this pandemic, and I think that the workers should share in the profit and be rewarded and be compensated for the time effort and the risk.”