WINNIPEG -- Grocery store employees are sometimes bearing the brunt of people’s anger and frustration during the pandemic, according to a union representing approximately 7,500 retail workers at stores across the province.

“It’s being reported to us, our union reps hourly, if not more so,” said Jeff Traeger, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 832. “It’s very bad on the weekends when the stores are very busy. Starts about Friday night and runs straight through until the end of the Sunday.”

“Shop stewards in just about every store where we represent workers have been reporting to our reps incredibly inappropriate behaviour, in some cases even racist comments towards some of our workers which is just unbelievably inappropriate.”

Traeger said the negative and rude comments seem to stem from the unavailability of certain products — such as toilet paper, Lysol wipes and other cleaning supplies — and other physical distancing measures put in place to keep customers and workers safe.

“Customers have been repeatedly coming back to the store to try to find those items, haven’t been able to and then have been yelling at or taking their frustrations or anger out on the people that work there,” said Traeger.

Shopper Patricia Bazinet finds it unfortunate to hear some grocery workers are on the receiving end of negative comments.

“That’s really sad, if people aren’t nice to them, that’s very sad,” said Bazinet.

She said she’s only encountered pleasant people during her outings for essential goods.

During her shopping trip on Monday at downtown Family Foods, a CTV News reporter overheard Bazinet thanking multiple employees for continuing to work during the pandemic.

“I appreciate that they’re here, I appreciate that the stores are stocked and that they’re feeding us and that they’re brave and come out to work every day,” said Bazinet in an interview outside the store. “So I just said, ‘thank you.’ That’s all I did.”

Downtown Family Foods co-owner Kevin Schmidt said most shoppers at his store have responded the same way as Bazinet.

“There have been a lot of people that have come in and they’ve expressed frustration with certain things. Not too many, most of them have been very thankful for the steps we’ve put in place,” said Schmidt.

Steps like Plexiglass shields to provide a barrier between customers and shoppers at checkouts, and setting a maximum of 20 people allowed in the store at any given time.

“That’s probably the biggest thing right now is everyone wants their six feet so being a small store, trying to do our best to accommodate is what we can do,” said Schmidt, adding the store will soon add directional aisles to keep traffic moving one way.

Traeger said aside from asking for the public’s cooperation and patience, more clarity on the rules is needed from government leaders to maintain some civility.

“We are looking at lobbying government for some rules around retail, they’ve talked about limiting the number of people in stores but it doesn’t seem as though anyone’s set down an actual number,” he said. “Even though some stores are kind of counting ‘one customer in, one customer out’ — it doesn’t appear there is a kind of an understood limit to the number of people that would be in the stores.”

“The other thing is people could do the one customer, one cart rule. If you’ve got a big family don’t bring them to the grocery store, bring one person with one cart to do the shopping to limit the exposure and improve social distancing.”