James is one of many in Southern Ontario continuing to work in shipping and receiving during the pandemic. He works night shifts with a skeleton crew of workers handling products, 90% of which are imported from Italy and China. James told Spring Magazine about the minimal safety precautions his employer has taken in the wake of the virus, which amount to little more than applying Lysol to key pieces of equipment. No policies have been enforced to ensure social distancing and hand-washing, leaving James and his coworkers to do their own research about how the virus can spread in a warehouse setting and what they can do to prevent it. He and his coworkers do not have access to paid sick leave. James’ situation reflects the experience of many workers who left wondering what constitutes appropriate health and safety, labour standards and working conditions amidst a global pandemic.
Can you describe how your working conditions have changed since the pandemic?
At my work specifically we have had zero changes. The only big thing that’s changed for health and safety is now we have to Lysol sanitize everything before and after use. Specifically, I drive a forklift for shipping and receiving at a warehouse. At the beginning of our shift we have to do a check, there is a checklist for the forklift and stuff. At the end of the checklist, they now put a Lysol swipe. So now we have to disinfect the whole forklift before getting on, and at the end of our shift we have to Lysol disinfect the whole forklift before we’re done.
Do you feel like that is effective?
Personally, I have no fear over this, so I’m okay, but there are some people who are very worried over this. One of my coworkers is extremely concerned about this as he has only one lung.
So he’s especially vulnerable…
They gave us a notice [to sign] stating that if we get two out of the three symptoms, basically cold symptoms (headache, runny nose, sneezing). If we get two out of the three, we get sent home for two weeks of isolation without pay. So, that is kind of nerve wracking.
Without pay and no paid sick leave then…
How do you and your coworkers feel about that?
I understand how it works on paper because this is an act of god, so really they are not liable. But I think that it is a little unjust.
Are you unionized?
No, we’re a sub-contracted company through union companies, but we are not unionized. I do think that we’re not 100% doing the safety measures that I feel we should because I think like 90% of our stock that gets shipped to us is from Italy and China and apparently that is where the largest outbreaks are right now. But, you know… that’s neither here nor there because we deal specifically with a rubber substance product and this virus has a hard time staying alive for more than 6 hours off rubber.
Did the company tell you that before you started handling it?
No, I looked that up personally. One thing I did do when I learned about this virus was do my own research and see how other people were dealing with it.
Has that been the approach of your coworkers as well?
Yes, they did their research. Honestly man, in a one sentence conversation the work just made us sign a paper stating that if we feel sick stay home. There has been zero changes to anyone’s hours or work duties, minus the Lysol-ing of the machinery.
And no additional face protection or anything like that?
How do you feel about having to work during the crisis?
Personally good, because we need money to live. I do kind of worry about spreading the disease because of the product that we handle. I am physically handling like every skid I grab, every item of the product that I have to handle. We go down aisles and grab an item from one skid and then put it on trucks. I will tell you what I deal with, we deal with tires physically. Every single tire goes through my hands before being put on a truck.
And are you wearing gloves?
They do say we can if we feel it is necessary, but they are not pushing that. And the gloves that they would be offering are mostly so our hands don’t dry and crack, not necessarily for protection from the disease.
Did they give you any guidelines about handwashing or anything like that?
Other than just basic stuff, y’know like “wash your hands when you go to the bathroom, before and after eating at lunch…” But those were put into place before the disease.
Given the fact that you are working during a global lethal pandemic… what do you think this says about your job?
They aren’t concerned about the spread of the disease really, you know what I mean, it’s just an everyday thing. Honestly, I feel like they are treating it just like the common cold, but the thing is, it’s hard for me to define my opinion on that because I do night shift, so it’s a skeleton crew; it is me and five others. On the afternoon shift there are thirty six people and on the day shift there are eighty six people, plus HR. I don’t know if they are a little more uptight about it than we are.
Do they have any social distancing guidelines, like making it mandatory to keep a certain distance from your coworkers?
No, we have had no sit-down about that. There is one table at the lunchroom where we all sit and eat. We do have a daily meeting before the shifts at a circular table at a four-foot long table. We all handle the same paperwork while we are having the meeting.
What do you think it says about the importance of your job that you have to go to work during something that is keeping the majority of the workforce at home?
That’s a good question, because we are still working so that once everything gets back together there will be a jump-start. Things are going to start moving sooner because we do supply tires for all of the factories and stuff like that so they will have supplies when things start up. Some companies like Toyota shut down, but they are still getting supplies from us. So I know that when things start back up they are going to have stuff. Not everything is going to be starting dry, so I do like that. I like knowing that the world is not at a complete halt yet. We are keeping the economy going by supplying need.
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