I work at a No Frills in Etobicoke. I’ve been there for 11 years full time in the grocery department. It’s a complicated story. I’m from St. Vincent. As a new immigrant I wasn’t coping very well. I was going to school but my mom was struggling so I decided to find a job and move out so it would be a bit easier on her. I was 20. What are you going to do, right?
But the last four years I’ve gotten into community organizing, giving back at shelters and food banks and helping other racialized people in my area. Sometimes without even talking to other people we think we’re the only ones dealing with these issues.
Since coronavirus, things have been changing every day at the store. We’ve been on reduced hours, but we’re back to regular hours (8 am to 9 pm) – which doesn’t make sense if we’re supposed to be social distancing. There are definitely concerns about exposure. We’re dealing with hundreds of people every day. We’re told that we can wear masks but it’s not mandatory.
Some people don’t respect your personal space. A lot of customers are touching products and then putting it back on the shelves. Sometimes people call and complain about why they have to wait in line. There’s a lot of young new money in the area, if that’s a phrase I can use, that feel entitled.
Transit is also a concern. I don’t have a car so I have to use the Keele bus and it’s usually packed. There’s no social distancing. But if you look at who’s on the bus it’s all racialized people going to commonplace jobs that are essential now, so they have no choice.
If I’m working an evening shift, it’s pretty tricky. I live in an area that’s heavily policed and have to walk 10 minutes to get home. So I worry about getting stopped and asked to produce proof I’m an essential worker.
I was selected by my union (United Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW) for a program to learn about politics and social justice. Its opened my eyes so much to the inequality and injustice that we face in society. I also read a lot. We need to take care of each other to get ahead.
I do enjoy my job most days. The way I look at it, I’m putting this food on the shelf so people can eat. I’m doing my part in the bigger wheel of what society is because everybody has a role to play.
I hope the coronavirus has taught us that the people and the workers we take for granted end up being the ones at the end of the day that take care of us. These are the people that society has shunted to the side. Who cares, they can easily be replaced, right? Only they can’t now.
Listen to a podcast interview with Rechev Browne below.
Read more frontline worker stories:
- Subarna Thirugnanam and Carmela Yambao, lead ICU physician and environmental services attendant at Markham Stouffville Hospital
- Paul Koblic and Yashi Yathindra, emergency doctors at at North York General and Mount Sinai (also husband and wife)
- Greg Cook, outreach worker at Sanctuary Toronto
- Tessa White, chef and kitchen coordinator at PARC
- Kyle Johansen, operations superintendent for Peel Regional Paramedic Services