“Truck drivers and delivery workers are vital to keeping hospitals supplied and food on store shelves,” says Francois Laporte, national president of Teamsters Canada. “If they can’t do their job properly, we all suffer.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/J.P. Moczulski

Red Deer trucker ‘nervous’ on front lines of COVID-19 fight

Patrick O’Connor is just looking for some help for the common man.

O’Connor, 42, is a central Alberta truck driver, born and raised in Red Deer, who performs what’s now regarded as one of society’s most important roles: keeping store shelves stocked with goods.

He said in his travels since the COVID-19 crisis really took hold in Alberta, he’s encountered plenty of people who aren’t taking the threat of the virus seriously enough.

He said people who are handling goods and products that he has to touch afterward, are not wearing gloves, not washing their hands or sanitizing. Many of them are not prasticing social distancing.

“I’m nervous, being on the front lines on this. The amount of people I’m dealing with per day, there’s a lot of flippant attitudes out there — who think this is a conspiracy or whatever,” said O’Connor, who delivers anything from diapers to chemicals.

That isn’t the only worry in O’Connor’s world. The uncertain economic times have also limited the number of loads that need to be shipped, which is putting trucking jobs in jeopardy.

“On top of it, you’re being threatened to lose your job, because people are losing their jobs all the time,” added O’Connor, who has been in the industry for the past 12 years.

“We may have to deliver the essentials, but there’s a lot of businesses closing down, and so there is not as much freight.”

All that raises concern for an industry that has moved to the front and centre in the fight against COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the hashtag “thank a trucker” was trending on twitter in Canada, and by the end of it, Francois Laporte, national president of Teamsters Canada, was sounding the alarm about human dignity.

Laporte said that with restaurants, truck stops and businesses closed, truckers have nowhere to turn when on the road.

“This is a matter of human decency. Nobody can be expected to work an entire day without using a bathroom. It’s a disgraceful way to treat the truck drivers and delivery workers who are essential to the functioning of our country,” he said.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers has also thrown its support behind short- and long-haul drivers. It said many facilities are denying drivers access to bathroom facilities.

“All Canadians are relying on these modern-day heroes to move the food and products that we need in our hospitals, grocery stores and fuel stations,” said Alberta director Stephen Vandervalk.

O’Connor said that’s not a problem he’s run into yet, but he has not been able to pick up food from restaurants. He has resorted to using an oven in his truck, which in hindsight, probably has him eating healthier.

Laporte said he hopes an exception can be made to help truckers who need access to amenities to do their work effectively.

“Truck drivers and delivery workers are vital to keeping hospitals supplied and food on store shelves. If they can’t do their job properly, we all suffer,” warned Laporte.

“Everyone has a breaking point, and if this goes on, some drivers will get sick, or will simply stop showing up to work, harming the supply chain and leaving critical shipments in limbo.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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