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Since the novel coronavirus and cases of COVID-19 have been identified and grown in North America over the past month, instances of both labour struggles and solidarity have seen a sharp increase.
In the greater Peterborough area, many businesses have closed their doors, whether by their own volition or by government directive. On March 23, Premier Doug Ford ordered that all “non-essential workplaces” close for the foreseeable future and continue operations through work-from-home or other means that can allow for social distancing. Businesses were required to close by 11:59 p.m. on March 24.
The Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA) has since introduced a centralized online gift certificate shop at supportdowntownptbo.ca. People can financially support local businesses now to enjoy their services at a later date while they are closed or operating at a lower capacity. This initiative has already proven to be a source of relief and positivity for local business owners, with Sam Sayer of Sam’s Place deli posting a video of herself to Facebook in tears of gratitude from the community response. For a list of food vendors operating at this time, click here.
At Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC), community members that are driving by honk their car horns in celebration of the PRHC workers in the thick of the pandemic, with Peterborough Public Health confirming 41 active cases of COVID-19 in the Peterborough area as of 4:30 p.m. on April 2.
On March 21, the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada Locals 175 and 633 (Ontario) announced that they had successfully negotiated a $2 premium atop of existing employees’ wages retroactive to March 8 and increased safety measures in stores owned by Loblaw Companies Ltd. This has effectively set the standard of COVID-19 safety in essential businesses, as other companies such as FreshCo and Costco have followed suit by installing plexiglass barriers between customers and cashiers, and/or have limited customers in store at a time.
However, many workers in the area also are facing layoffs and firings, with Global News reporting that the federal government received nearly 1 million employment insurance (EI) claims between March 16 and March 22 alone. Those that are still working in “essential services” are reporting working conditions that do not adequately address the viral pandemic.
Employees of an American pizza franchise with two locations in Peterborough* have taken indefinite leaves of absence, citing inadequate working conditions. At at least one location, there are no plexiglass or other cleanable or disposable barriers between staff and customers in the storefront for pick-up orders. There is only one large bottle of sanitizer for all employees to use. The delivery drivers, who make less than half the minimum wage plus fuel mileage and tips as contract workers, do not have gloves or hand sanitizer unless they choose to use their own.
“[The owners] should be providing [the drivers] with gloves or a small bottle individually,” one worker said.
Hastings Manor, a long-term care home in nearby Northumberland County, is experiencing a “facility-wide” COVID-19 outbreak. However, its staff has been having issues accessing personal protective equipment (PPE) that allows them to protect themselves while caring for ill residents. A source with knowledge of the situation claims that N95 masks are currently not in use and surgical masks are being used sparingly as not to “scare” the residents.
The situation in Hastings is developing at the same time that Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, has had 16 residents and one resident’s spouse die from COVID-19 complications as of April 2. Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, Medical Officer of Health for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, said that the Pinecrest outbreak is “currently the largest outbreak in the province” on March 26.
In the greater Toronto area, community members have banded together in a Facebook group called CareMongeringTO to offer support, consolidation of resources, and other mutual aid efforts to one another. Meanwhile, couriers for Foodora, a delivery app whose workers in Toronto unionized in 2019, have not been given masks or gloves despite an increase in demand and newly added requests to pick up prescriptions for app users.
South of the border, Instacart and Amazon workers walked out on March 30, and Whole Foods grocery workers (also owned by Amazon) walked out on March 31, citing a lack of adequate pay, paid sick leave, and safety measures for the essential work that they are doing. (Amazon’s Canadian warehouse counterparts have a temporary wage increase and are being paid double overtime until May.) Nurses and sanitation workers have also refused to work without PPE. New York City is one of the epicenters of the outbreak in the U.S., with reports of bodybag shortages and plans to use prison labour to bury the dead.
The situation for those with and without work is rapidly developing. For more information about resources available to you and workers’ rights during this time, please visit the links below.
Editors’ Note: This phrasing has been chosen to protect the identities of the workers involved. The owners of both Peterborough locations are the same.