Viewpoint: Grocery worker criticism not deserved

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By CHRIS ROWTHORN

I am writing in response to David Rapport’s op-ed titled “Essential services demand essential responsibilities” (July 15) and A. White’s op-ed titled “Store practices questioned” (June 24). Both writers expressed concern about the fact that most Country Grocer employees do not wear masks while working.

First, let me say that I share their concern: Since the pandemic spread to Canada, I have been wearing masks whenever I go into stores, a practice I continue to this day. I strongly believe that masks are critical to stopping the spread of the virus, and I think that the success of some East Asian countries in controlling the virus is due to their cultural acceptance of mask wearing.

That said, I feel uncomfortable about members of the public criticizing workers who place themselves in harm’s way so that we can eat. I would ask that we consider how we feel when we go into a shop. It’s scary. You’re entering an environment you cannot control and coming into contact with people who may not be social distancing. The people who work at Country Grocer and other stores have to endure that feeling for several hours at a time, day in and day out. And few of them have any choice in the matter: They do it to support their families and keep a roof over their heads.

Furthermore, most of us have to wear a mask for just a few minutes at a time, and even then it’s uncomfortable. Is it really our right to dictate that the workers at Country Grocer wear them for up to eight hours at a time? If we have the luxury of working from home, I think we should be careful of the demands we place on those who do not have this luxury.

Given that the good people of Country Grocer and other island shops are literally putting their lives at risk so that we may eat, I think that there is only one response that we can have toward them: gratitude. Deep, honest and heartfelt gratitude. The last thing these people need is criticism from those of us who benefit from their services. Obviously, I hope that this gratitude extends beyond merely putting up signs thanking “front line heroes.” Such signs are great, but let’s hope that these wishes translate into support for fair living wages and job security. Salt Spring is a special place, and I think that this type of change might actually occur.

Finally, it should be noted that Country Grocer still has a policy of allowing only seniors and other vulnerable people into the shop during the first hour of business each day. Those who are especially concerned about infection can safely shop during this time. For those even more concerned, food delivery services are available from Copper Kettle, an island charity that can be found online.

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