By Kathy Dobson

Seth didn’t always hate his job. The first couple of years he often enjoyed his work as a grocery store clerk, mostly because of the other staff.

“I work with a great crew of people, and that makes everything easier, liking the people you work with. Some of the hardest parts of my job involve the customers. It can be a challenge when you know you need to keep your cool and remain calm, no matter how much of an asshole someone is acting like.”

A few months ago, when Seth learned his employer would be adding an extra two dollars to his hourly wage in recognition of grocery store clerks being declared ‘essential workers’ during COVID-19, he felt relieved. As someone who, despite working fulltime, was earning less than a basic living wage, Seth says that extra two dollars an hour made a huge difference.

“It gave me some extra breathing room. Food and rent in Ottawa is expensive. I already spend almost 45 minutes walking to work, one way, every day. So, I have no wiggle room when it comes to expenses. That extra two bucks meant I could start saving up for a bike.”

The extra cash made Seth feel more valued, and as the public seemed to become more aware and appreciative of the fact that front line workers include more than just nurses, doctors, EMS and firefighters, he also started to note a slight change in customers’ attitudes towards him and his fellow worker.

“Sure, we still get some assholes, people who think they’re somehow special and don’t need to wear a mask, even though we offer it to them for free. But some people started making noises about us being ‘heroes’ and some even started just showing us more respect. We aren’t heroes of course, that’s dumb. But I do appreciate that some customers are treating us a lot better.”

When asked for an example of how some customers have treated him, Seth quickly responds.

“I hate it when I’m stocking a shelf or loading up the vegetable shelves and a customer will lean in right next to me, sometimes even touching me, without saying a word as they reach for an avocado or tin of something. Like I’m invisible, or not a person or something.”

I asked Seth of he ever speaks up, and says anything to the customer who gets too close.

“I do now! That’s one thing about Covid, right? Now I get to say, ‘Excuse me, but we need to keep six feet apart from each other. For both of our safety.’ I just don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to say ‘excuse me’.”

Seth says he’s always careful to be as polite, but firm, as possible. Most customers instantly apologise and step back. But not always.

“Sometimes they’ll roll their eyes, right at my face, but they know they can’t really argue it. Like geez, take a step back! But most customers, I gotta say, are being really great. But why did it take a global pandemic to show any sort of respect for grocery store clerks?”

Recently Seth’s store’s two dollar extra an hour incentive pay came to an end after his large grocery store chain announced they were ending the bonus pay.

“I’ve been telling all the workers, ‘Hey, great news, Covid is over!’ I mean, it must be, right? Why else are we suddenly no longer going to receive that extra hazard pay?”