Retail workers say the refusal by Canada's grocers to reinstate "hero pay'' has left them feeling forgotten and unappreciated as the Omicron wave leaves many stores short-staffed and shoppers stocking up.
Multiple grocery store workers say they are busier than ever with more staff calling in sick in the last two weeks than during the entire pandemic.
They say customers are also once again "clearing the shelves" and stocking up on food, which increases the workload in stores.
Tammy Laporte, a full-time grocery store worker, says the last two years have been the hardest of her 23-year career.
She says it's a "never-ending struggle" to keep the store running smoothly while adhering to increased cleaning requirements and enforcing public health measures.
Laporte says the decision by grocery chains not to bring back the $2-an-hour pay bump is "insulting."
"It made us feel appreciated," she said of the pay premium Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys offered workers during the first wave of COVID-19.
"It made us feel like the employer cared, and like they understood the risks we were facing."
Despite working with a major grocer for more than two decades as a full-time employee, Laporte says the pandemic bonus brought her pay "to the edge of a living wage" for the first time.
"The $2-an-hour increase may not seem like a lot but at the end of the day, it made a big difference."
Meanwhile, Laporte says gift cards weren't as helpful, as they were taxable and ended up actually reducing paycheques.
Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
While the grocers did offer a mix of bonuses, gift cards or other benefits during subsequent waves of the pandemic, none appear to be offering any additional pay as a result of the Omicron surge.
However, Sobeys has committed to reinstating its "hero pay" when regions or provinces go back into lockdowns that close all non-essential retail.
Karen Lobb, who has worked at a grocery store for 27 years, said workers would appreciate an acknowledgment of the risks they face going into work every day.
"They took the bonus away but COVID never went way," she said. "We've never closed, we haven't stopped."
Lobb added: "We're short-staffed and some of us are working longer hours to make up for it. Some recognition would be nice."