From the UFCW 401 picket lines

On October 7, Rankandfile.ca spoke with Justin T., a Calgary Superstore employee and proud member of UFCW Local 401.

[audio:http://rankandfile.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/UFCW_Justin.mp3|titles=Justin UFCW 401 interview]

Earlier that day, the UFCW announced that its bargaining team had reached a tentative agreement with Loblaws, a subsidiary of George Weston Limited, Canada’s largest food retailer. No further information about the contents of the agreement have so far been released.

According to an announcement made on Local 401’s Facebook page,

At around 4 a.m. today, an agreement was reached in principle between Loblaw and UFCW Local 401. The agreement offers hope to Superstore employees for their coming years of employment. The union negotiating committee is unanimously recommending the settlement and immediate arrangements will be made to give union members across the province a chance to vote on the deal.

Ratification votes will take place as early as this Tuesday across the province.

Picketing will continue and Superstore employees are asked to maintain picket lines. As details of the tentative agreement are finalised and a plan for a smooth return to the stores is considered, it is important that Loblaw continue to understand that we are committed to bargaining strong together until a new deal is finalised.

The new agreement will present employees with a number of significant improvements over and above the company’s last offer. We strongly believe that these improvements will bring new hope to employment at Superstores & Liquorstores.

It is crystal clear that the threat of a strike had some impact on Loblaw’s approach to negotiations. But the difference was made when employees walked off the job. Enthusiasm and solidarity of picketers finally got Galen Weston to understand the need for a greater balance in workplace relations. Customer support was overwhelming.

Union leaders will now be very busy making arrangements for special ratification meetings and votes. We will let you know as soon as we can regarding our plans.

Loblaws employees in Saskatchewan, represented by UFCW Local 1400, reached an agreement with the company on October 4, but have yet to ratify the contracts. Details have not been released.

About 8,500 employees representing 55 Real Canadian Superstore and Real Canadian Liquorstore locations went on strike Oct. 6 after the union rejected parent company Loblaw’s settlement offer. UFCW Local 401 said the offer failed to address reduced hours and wages for employees and began labour action when contract talks broke down.

With the entry of Target into the Canadian retail market this year, domestic companies like Loblaws are pursuing a strategy of reducing wage costs in an attempt to compete. Across Canada, Loblaws has attempted to slash starting wages for new employees and wage rollbacks for existing workers, in addition to the reduction of hours for part-time employees.

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When strike action began on Sunday, Loblaws quickly responded by employing scabs to keep stores open. Reports suggest, however, that customers were supportive of strike activity and many refused to enter the store. Part of this refusal to shop at Superstore has been due to the poor customer service resulting from the work stoppage.

Justin, a ten year Superstore employee, talks about the deterioration of customer service and employment conditions and wages as a result of the company’s low-cost and low-wage strategy. This is his first time engaging in job action. In a telling remark about strike activity, Justin comments

“It’s surprising to see how much a strike can have an impact on a company and make them really listen to its workers, and that’s the whole point of unions. There needs to be more of this in our country… From my perspective it’s a great way to get treated fairly and for people to get what they deserve.”

Workers will have a chance to review the details of the tentative agreement this week and picket lines will remain until after the contract has been approved. Whether or not the negotiated settlement with satisfy the demands of workers remains to be seen. What is clear is that unions need to consider coordinated bargaining and certification campaigns amongst the growing number of low-wage and low-cost retailers that dominate the Canadian market. Stay tuned for more Rank and File coverage.

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