Bonnie Chislett organized Aspen Co-op to win respect

Bonnie Chislett was a force to be reckoned with.

After months of bullying and poor treatment from management at the Aspen Co-op, she knew there was only one thing to do: unionize.

That was in late 2011. Bonnie and her co-worker Lynn Smith had been working at the Co-op since it opened in 2005. “Man, who wasn’t being picked on?” recalls Lynn. “We weren’t going to put up with that anymore. We decided to unionize.”

Bonnie called the Port Alberni Co-op and asked who their union was. Then she made another phone call – this time to UFCW 1518. “When we informed management that we were going to have a union vote – they were horrified!” says Lynn. In early 2012, the workers at Aspen Co-op won the certification by a landslide. After unionizing things got worse – but only until the company realized UFCW 1518 was there to stay. Bonnie and Lynn both became stewards and filed upwards of 15 grievances in the first month. “People were getting written up for all kinds of things!” remembers Lynn. They put in a group grievance for bullying, which had caused some members to go off on stress leave.

After the company lost at arbitration, things began to improve. Two general mangers and a manger were fired. UFCW 1518 stayed in close communication with the employer to ensure the collective agreement was being followed. “It’s been smooth sailing ever since!” comments Lynn. “We have a really good manager now; she’s willing to work with our union rep. We did our second contract last year and there were wage increases on both ends. That wasn’t why we unionized though – we unionized because we wanted fair treatment.”

It was that same manager – the really good one – who told Bonnie to go to the hospital last month. Previously diagnosed with cancer, Bonnie had returned to work after almost three dozen radiation treatments. But she couldn’t shake what seemed like a bad cold. At the hospital, Bonnie found out the cancer had spread to her lungs. “She spent her last month at home,” Lynn says. “A previous manager came out from Saskatchewan and we visited her every day we could. A bunch of regular customers wrote her notes and I took them to her. They said what Bonnie meant to them and how much they would miss her.”

Bonnie chose medical assistance in dying. On March 16, with her family, friends and co-workers at her side, Bonnie passed away. “She was in a lot of pain. In the end, she was ready to go,” says Lynn. “It was really nice – we got to say goodbye. We got to see her go peacefully. She had a smile on her face.” Bonnie’s advocacy for her co-workers will not be forgotten. “She was always there if someone needed her. She was an awesome shop steward,” Lynn says.  “We lost a good person.”

The Aspen Co-Op will hold hot dog sales to raise money for a bench to be placed outside in Bonnie’s memory, as well for the annual Cops for Cancer – Tour de Rock. The Co-op is also accepting cash donations at the till.

Members at First United Church ratify strong first contract

UFCW 1518 members at First United Church in the heart of the Downtown Eastside understand hardship. They see it every day as they serve some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents. Homelessness. Poverty. Undiagnosed mental health issues. Addiction. Our members work to provide advocacy, housing, meals and social programs to help people deal with some of society’s worst social ills.

But their commitment to social justice isn’t only reflected in their work. It’s in the solidarity they show each other. When it came to negotiating their first-ever collective agreement, our members wouldn’t leave anyone behind. “The sad reality is that this type of work is often precarious and poorly paid,” says Kim Balmer, Executive Assistant to the President. “But during bargaining, our higher paid members were willing to forego a wage increase to ensure that their lesser paid co-workers came up to $15 an hour or greater. They wanted to ensure the custodians and dishwashers would make a living wage.”

UFCW 1518 has been an active supporter of the Fight for $15, which aims to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in order to lift people working full time above the poverty line. Currently, BC has one of the lowest minimum wages in the county, with the highest cost of living. A living wage would lift workers out of poverty, allowing them to support their families while benefitting the economy. Our members also understand the importance of a living wage, and were willing to fight for it. “The bargaining committee took a firm position: no worker would work for less than $15 an hour. They took a very principled stand on achieving a living wage,” says Balmer. “It’s remarkable for a first contract.”

In the first year of the contract, wage increases range from three percent to 11 percent, with some classifications achieving greater than 30 percent. All members will receive a subsequent 2.5 percent wage hike on August 1, 2017, followed by another two percent jump on August 1, 2018. “It’s never just about wages, though,” Balmer adds. “We got very good scheduling language that will promote more full time positions. We got job posting language that will enable workers to move to higher paid classifications. There’s also very good shop steward and union recognition language – that’s important.”

Strong health and safety language was also a critical gain. “In many cases these members deal with people suffering from untreated mental illness and addiction. They’re often faced with folks who can be violent. And all this is complicated by the opiate crisis in British Columbia, which means they’re also dealing with folks who are overdosing,” Balmer explains. “So we made sure we got the language to help deal with serious incidents and aggressive behavior.”

Sign the Fight for $15 petition here.

New contract for J&L Beef brings important gains

UFCW 1518 members at J & L Beef reached a tentative agreement on January 22, 2107, crafting a deal that made great strides for members – notably an economic increase of at least 14.5 percent over five years.  “This does not include other monetary improvements that UFCW 1518 achieved in this round of bargaining,” explains Kim Balmer, Executive Assistant to the President. Over the term of the agreement, the wage increases will be between $2.23 and more than $5 an hour, depending on where members are on the new incremental wage scales. Full retroactivity on wages means the employer will hand out payments ranging from $3000 to $5500.

Significantly, members negotiated into the UFCW Pension Plan for the first time. This was a sticking point for the employer, but with patience and persistence, bargaining committee members Gerry Labelle and Narinder Lidde were able to keep the plan on the table. “Pension is deferred income that brings a better life in retirement,” Balmer says. “Now these members will enjoy a better quality of life after working hard for the company their entire lives.”

The bargaining committee also persevered to win strong over-time language, another important gain. “In poultry plants, there’s a huge amount of overtime. The employer takes the position that everybody’s working,” says Balmer. “But quite frankly we see it as a health and safety issue. Members need time to attend to personal health issues, appointments and family responsibility.” The new contract also features increases in health and welfare benefits, a boot allowance and an increase to the tool allowance.

Members at the poultry processing plant voted overwhelmingly in favour of ratification. With a strike vote securely in their back pocket, they had been ready to put up picket lines, showing solid support for UFCW 1518’s mandate. But with the assistance of mediator Mark Brown, both sides were able to reach a settlement.

Historic win at PriceSmart foods

UFCW 1518 members working at PriceSmart foods ratified an historic collective agreement that increased wages by 11 percent for the company’s most vulnerable workers. On February 10, members at the Richmond and Metrotown stores turned out in high numbers to vote to accept the contract.

The bargaining committee, composed of Pauline Green, Claire Chai, Carrie Cheng and Stephen Chou, worked tirelessly to craft a fair agreement that addressed systemic low wages of workers in the retail food sector. “It was a very challenging set of negotiations,” said Secretary-Treasurer Kim Novak. “But we’re confident we got the best possible contract. And we couldn’t be more pleased at the significant wage increase for our members and the improvements to their benefits.”

Overnight, the hourly wage of food clerks will jump from $11 to $12.20, with the start rate rising to $12.50 in the last year of the contract. In addition to the immediate wage hike, Novak pointed out that food clerks who were previously capped at a wage less than $12 will now continue to enjoy wage increases up to $20 an hour. In another important win, they will also be eligible for MSP, dental and extended health benefits, as well as a lump sum payment of up to $1500. The vacation entitlement, which had been capped three weeks, now increases to up to five weeks.

“This is an important day for food retail workers. Our members told us what they wanted and we delivered,” comments Novak. “Thanks to the leadership and hard work of the bargaining committee, family benefits and the path to a living wage have become more attainable for our members.”​

Katrina Chen: Workers’ values are Canadian values

When Katrina Chen came to Canada as a student 17 years ago, she liked what she saw.

“There was so much support for people. I thought, Canada is a beautiful place.”

But Chen saw that slowly change over time. Her work as a constituency assistant for NDP MP Peter Julian brought her face to face with some of our society’s most vulnerable: seniors, immigrants, the unemployed, and people lacking the resources or education to help them navigate increasingly costly and complex systems.

“I saw firsthand how that hurts families,” says Chen. “That’s been my experience as a union member for past 10 years working on the frontlines.”

But her work with residents, workers and families in Julian’s Burnaby-New Westminster riding also showed her how good policy can change people’s lives for the better. “I helped them address issues, apply for benefits, get a bus pass. I helped them find solutions.”

It was her desire to make a difference that motivated Chen to become a politician “I believe policy should work for people. I feel government should listen more and ensure local residents’ issues are addressed.”

It was her belief in supporting workers and their families that made the NDP an obvious choice; in turn, the party chose her as their candidate for Burnaby-Lougheed. “Workers values are Canadian values. I want to make sure we in the NDP work hard so that everyone is protected in our communities.”

Chen is no stranger to hard work. In fact she works three jobs – including her part time gigs as Burnaby School Trustee and immigration consultant – not to mention her biggest job of all as mother to her three-year-old son.

As a working mum, Chen faced the same struggle as many British Columbians in her search for affordable childcare. This is why she and the NDP support a $10 a day childcare plan, she explains. Chen also identifies with many other young families facing the high cost of living and an impenetrable housing market. The NDP’s pledge to fund co-operative housing is one way to address that, she says.

Chen’s experience as a school trustee strengthened her conviction that education is the foundation of a happy, healthy society. “And also becoming a mum. I want my child to have a proper education. I came to Canada for education. But I’ve been seeing how the chronic underfunding of the education system in this province has really damaged not just K-12 but also post-secondary.”

“The current government talks about jobs and the economy, but they’re not investing in the most basic thing – education,” Chen comments. “When you support people, when you give them an education, they all contribute back.”

New union rep lends more support to schedule monitoring

UFCW 1518 is pleased to welcome Ronda Melbourne as our new union representative assisting with the implementation of the scheduling provisions negotiated in the last round of collective bargaining with Overwaitea/Save On Foods.

These provisions, which create a better opportunity for all members to maximize their hours, will help our members advance along the path to a living wage. One such provision is the introduction of cross classification scheduling, which allows workers to be scheduled across more than one department. UFCW 1518 also implemented daily maximization of hours by seniority for those members who did not already enjoy this benefit. In addition, we negotiated new language on declaration of availability and weekday restrictions.

To ensure a smooth transition to the new scheduling language, UFCW 1518 together with the employer appointed a scheduling committee. Additionally, we hired a union representative to work full time auditing schedules to ensure that the new scheduling language was being followed. When hours were not maximized properly, we filed grievances for hours claims, with many members being paid out for hours that they should have been scheduled but were not.

After one year of conducting schedule audits, UFCW 1518 and Overwaitea jointly trained stewards across the province in schedule auditing. The training concluded last fall and according to our stewards, has been very helpful. Importantly, we reached an agreement with Overwaitea to allow stewards to audit schedules on employer time at the monthly Growing our Future meetings. This will provide further support to stewards as they carry out their work.

As a follow up to the scheduling training, Ronda will be visiting all stores to meet with our stewards. An experienced shop steward from the retail food sector, Ronda will be available to troubleshoot problems and answer questions that have arisen since the implementation of the new scheduling language and our efforts to enforce it.

We are excited to have Ronda on board as we continue our fight for fairness in the workplace!

Stefan Nielsen

Stefan Nielsen is a proud unionist and a member of UFCW 1518. Despite longtime involvement, however, last year was his first time representing our union at the BC Federation of Labour’s annual convention.

“To be honest, it was the time of my life, surrounded by activists, trade unionists – a whole diverse variety of perspectives,” Stefan says of the largest gathering of the provincial labour movement. “It was an unreal and incredible opportunity.”

Stefan represented our union on a number of issues during the convention such as quality affordable childcare and the importance of living wage jobs. The experience inspired him to become even more passionate about fighting for fairness. “I really encourage both newer and longer term members to go if you have the chance,” Stefan says. “You will learn so much.”

If you are interested in becoming more involved and taking on a role with our union staff, check out our HeadStart Program.

Caitlan Smith

Caitlan Smith didn’t always see herself as an activist in our union. “I didn’t really feel like I had much of a voice,” says the member from eCycle Solutions.

That changed when she joined about a dozen other UFCW 1518 members at Harrison Hot Springs for a five-day Youth Internship Program. There, Caitlan learned about her rights in the workplace and gained confidence in standing up for herself through exercises like mock negotiations.

Caitlan’s work in our union also connected her with the BC Federation of Labour, where she took a course that prepared her to teach kids about unions and labour rights in schools across BC. “I learned that you don’t have to be a shop steward to help people out,” she says. By learning about her rights, Caitlan was inspired to help spread that knowledge and push others to “do the right thing and stand up for themselves.”

Every UFCW 1518 member has a right to make their voice heard, both in our union and their workplace. If you are interested in becoming more involved in our union’s activism, check out our Events as well as the Education available to all members.

Brock Fingland

Life isn’t fair. Brock Fingland saw that every day working at First United Church, a low-barrier shelter in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that helps some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

But Brock started to notice that things at work weren’t fair either. There was inconsistent scheduling and the firing of a co-worker without cause. Since joining our union in August 2016, Brock has seen a significant improvement in working conditions and other important changes.

“After our negotiation process, the executive director resigned and our shelter manager has also been relieved,” says Brock. “I don’t think these terminations would have happened without our union’s involvement.”

Now, instead of receiving schedules at the last minute, Brock and his co-workers get them two weeks in advance. Most significantly, our union initiated legal proceedings around the termination.“The Labour Board’s decision was that it was an unjust termination without decent grounds, so he was given his back pay and brought back to his job,” Brock says. “I think that empowered a lot of people.”

Brock’s story shows how even workers in the most altruistic industries are often subjected to unfair treatment. By joining our union and asserting their rights, the workers of First United Church can now stay focused on what matters most – helping people in need.

We are all stronger when we stand together to fight for fairness. If you know someone in a non-unionized workplace who is being treated unfairly, encourage them to check out our Join Us page.