Liquor store workers under stress and facing harassment enforcing COVID rules: SGEU president

·3 min read
 Stand-alone liquor retailers were given two days notice to implement proof of vaccination requirements for customers. (Neil Cochrane/CBC - image credit)
Stand-alone liquor retailers were given two days notice to implement proof of vaccination requirements for customers. (Neil Cochrane/CBC - image credit)

Workers at the province's stand-alone liquor stores are facing angry and sometimes violent customers upset about new proof of vaccination rules, according to the union representing government liquor store employees.

Tracey Sauer, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU), said the requirement for all customers to submit either a proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test to enter liquor stores is unfair and confusing to customers because it only applies to stand-alone retailers.

On Oct. 1, the province enacted a public health order requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests to enter many non-essential businesses, including restaurants, cinemas, gyms and stand-alone liquor stores.

Liquor stores that operate within another business, including grocery stores, are not required to obtain a customer's proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.

"The government's decision is inconsistent and it suggests to the public that unvaccinated people [should] shop at one specific type of liquor store," Sauer said.

"It puts those workers and patrons also at a greater risk of [COVID-19] infection. It also creates a loss of business for the stand-alone stores."

SGEU represents 633 Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) employees, hundreds of which work at its 35 government-run liquor stores.

Sauer said SGEU has received reports of angry customers verbally and physically threatening female staff.

"Retail workers at our SLGA stores have faced harassment by customers who had no knowledge that proof of vaccination was required to enter their stores. We noticed that our female members … seemed to be getting attacked or approached differently than the men are getting approached."

The provincial government doesn't seem to have thought out their decision and the repercussions that it may have when they roll this out. - Tracey Sauer

Sauer said the province only gave operators of stand-alone liquor stores two days notice that they would need to implement a proof of vaccination plan.

"The provincial government doesn't seem to have thought out their decision and the repercussions that it may have when they roll this out. Other businesses had two weeks notice. And these businesses only have two days."

Sauer also said the restrictions impact people who are dependent on alcohol, limiting their choices especially if they live in a rural community.

"In the past ... the government had said that these liquor stores were a necessity in the community because of the pandemic. And it seems now that that has all been forgotten."

'They called us puppets'

Derek Brack manages Willow Park Wine and Spirits, a private stand-alone liquor store in Regina.

He said, at first, customers were angry about the proof of vaccination requirements.

"We did get some angry phone calls. They called us puppets. They called us fascists. We had no choice. We had to comply," Brack said.

Brack said Willow Park pivoted its business plan and started accepting telephone orders and allowing curbside pick up.

Sauer said government-operated liquor stores are not allowed to offer curbside pickup.

Brack said business has remained steady, despite the vaccination requirements.

Still, he would have appreciated more than two days notice that his store would need a customer's proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.

"And obviously an explanation for why at the beginning of the pandemic, we were deemed essential. And then all of a sudden we weren't."

A spokesperson for the SLGA said the province is trying to encourage people to get vaccinated by requiring proof of vaccination to enter businesses.

"We do recognize the notification period was shorter and we understand it has created a bit of a challenge," SLGA spokesperson David Morris said in an emailed statement.

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