Union representing Superstore employees concerned about number of people inside stores

The union representing about 9,000 Real Canadian Superstore employees in Alberta said workers are raising concerns about the number of customers inside of the grocery stores.

Thomas Hesse, the president of UFCW Local 401, wrote a letter to Premier Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw to express concern over the current occupancy limit.

“Five hundred people or more might be in a Superstore, while the employer might still be in compliance with the 15 per cent rule, so social distancing is lost,” Hesse said to Global News.

Read more: Union wants better protections, pandemic pay reinstated for Alberta meat plant, grocery store workers

Under the restrictions in effect, retail services must limit customer capacity to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy, not including staff.

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“Unless you enforce that rule (social distancing), there could be 500 people crowded down an aisle, crowded at the front end of the store. Customers are afraid and employees are afraid,” Hesse said.

“Social distancing is the fundamental principle of customer and employee safety and 15 per cent is not allowing social distancing to happen.”

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Some stores across Alberta have their occupancy limit posted at their front door, but not all have done so.

Read more: Loblaw profits plunge amid coronavirus costs despite revenue surge

In a written request for information, Loblaws public relations said its stores are abiding by the restrictions — but did not tell to Global News how many customers are allowed inside its stores.

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In a statement Loblaws Public Relations said:

“Our store is following the new restrictions outlined in Edmonton, keeping our customer count to 15 per cent of capacity. We have colleagues at each door to monitor the number in and out to ensure this, and to help those in line social distance. We have a local health authority in store who has reviewed our program, and has assured us that we are doing everything we can to keep our team and our customers safe.”

In comparison, Teresa Spinelli, president of the Italian Centre Shop, said 35 customers, plus staff members, are allowed inside its southside Edmonton location at one time.

“People line up inside the café so they can warm up a little bit — thankfully, the weather has really cooperated,” Spinelli said about the store near 51 Avenue near 104a Street.

“We have someone there ensuring there’s social distancing and we have somebody at the end of the line, allowing them in. They’ve got a clicker and they count how many people come in.”

Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said the 15 per cent capacity is only one of the public health measures in place in Alberta stores.

Other measures include ensuring physical distancing can be maintained, which may also help reduce occupancy, he said.

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McMillan said shoppers must also do their part by avoiding peak hours and utilize curbside or online delivery whenever possible.

Read more: Grocery store execs were in communication before canceling coronavirus pay, MPs told

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