Island Pharmacy wins union drive, joins UFCW 1518!

Workers at Island Pharmacy on Vancouver Island cast their ballots decidedly in favour of fairness when they organized with UFCW 1518 last week. About 50 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy assistants and POS receivers joined more than 21,000 British Columbians represented by UFCW 1518, the union of choice for workers in the community health, professional, retail and industrial sectors.

“This is a significant win for these workers,” comments organizer Keith Murdoch. But it wasn’t an easy win, he admits. “It was a long campaign with a number of hurdles to overcome. There’s one employer with nine different locations or kingdoms. It was a lot of work to get everyone on the same page and make an application.” There was a strong motivation to unionize, adds Murdoch, which made the organizing drive a success in the end. “There was a lot of concern over how employees were treated, and with workplace issues not being properly addressed.”

Employees like Katie Richardson, a pharmacy assistant compounder, were tired of seeing long term colleagues quit because of poor treatment. Richardson became a driving force of the organizing campaign and one of the reasons for its success. “We needed to make some positive changes to our work environment and fast,” recalls Richardson. “We were needlessly loosing amazing long term staff and people that I care about on a continual basis because they quit or got fired. There were many others that had one foot out the door but chose to stay primarily because they genuinely care about their colleagues and patients.”

Arbitrary terminations helped start a conversation about the need for job security and protection. And the employer’s failure to pay overtime led UFCW 1518 to file a third party complaint under the Employment Standards Act. “The employer was breaking basic labour law but there was so much fear about losing jobs that people tolerated the violations,” says Murdoch. “Despite raising their concerns, the overtime issue was never resolved until we came along. We filed our complaint and a few weeks, employees started receiving overtime pay for the first time.”

Murdoch expects negotiations to begin soon, with wages and benefits being the focal point. “These workers have been through a lot. But now they have a union. And we’re going to start fixing these problems.”

Cereal drive fills “empty cupboard” at local school

In a province of such wealth, it’s hard to believe that anyone goes hungry, let alone British Columbia’s kids. But despite BC’s apparent rosy economic outlook, nearly one in five children live in poverty, according to the 2016 BC Child Poverty Report Card.  That number skyrockets to nearly 50 percent for single parent households, most of which are headed by mothers.

Food insecurity, a serious public health problem in Canada, is a consequence of poverty, and is exacerbated by social factors like low paid, precarious employment. This is why too many children arrive at school with empty stomachs, says Robin Stewart, who helps coordinate the breakfast program for the New Westminster school district. “We’re just trying to create a level playing field for all kids at school,” she explains.

Research consistently shows that “children from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have poor diets and poor academic performance resulting in lower levels of educational attainment and poorer health outcomes.” [Source] This is why Monica Nathan, part of the administrative staff at UFCW 1518, wanted to organize a cereal drive. “They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I can’t imagine being a little kid and trying to pay attention or behave well on a growling stomach.”

UFCW 1518 responded to Nathan’s appeal for breakfast foods with enthusiasm. “I was thrilled with the response. I thought one big box would be enough – I was wrong!” she says, adding that leadership and staff filled two large boxes with a variety of cereals. The cereal was donated to Queensborough Middle School, which is located in an area that suffers from a dearth of quality employment, and has no grocery stores or food banks, says Stewart. The breakfast program operates Monday to Friday and is run by staff and retirees from the community. It feeds upwards of two dozen children – and sometimes their parents. “If they have 50 cents they pay 50 cents. If they have nothing they pay nothing,” Stewart adds.

The partnership between UFCW 1518 and the New Westminster Schools breakfast program was facilitated by Carlos Carvalho, labour liaison for the United Way. “My job is to work with unions and connect them to engagement or education opportunities with agencies in the community. It’s part of the United Way’s mission of building health, caring and inclusive communities for all.”

The timing for such a partnership couldn’t have been better. “UFCW 1518 gave a massive donation of food at the end of the year, when cupboards are starting to get a little empty,” notes Stewart.

To make a donation to the New Westminster Schools breakfast program or for more information, visit http://newwestschools.ca/.

First & only unionized Canadian Tire in BC wins big in bargaining

UFCW 1518 members at Canadian Tire in Prince George know what it means to fight for fairness.

When they tried to bargain their first contract, shortly after organizing in 1983, the employer’s demand for an open shop led to a bitter and lengthy strike. But members of the Retail Clerks Union, as UFCW 1518 was called then, knew what was right, and didn’t give up their goal of a unionized workplace. Finally, after 27 months on the picket line, they ratified their collective agreement, becoming the first unionized Canadian Tire in the province.

“It was a bitter labour dispute that lasted three freezing winters,” recalls Kim Balmer, the union representative during the strike. “But once it was over, the employer accepted the union. Now, almost 30 years later, that store remains the only unionized Canadian Tire in British Columbia. Our members are all full time and have some of the best wages going.” This is notable, Balmer adds, because the trend in the department store sector is toward precarious, part-time labour with paltry benefit packages.

More than three decades later, the impact of the strike still lingers. On April 30, members overwhelmingly voted to accept a strong renewed collective agreement, on the unanimous recommendation of the bargaining committee. Among many improvements is a hefty 12.5 percent wage increase over five years, with the top rate reaching $20.21/hour in the final year, and the starting rate moving closer to a living wage. Shift premiums for supervisors rose to $3/hour while those for keyholders rose an additional $2/hour. The employer contribution to the health and welfare plan increased to 70 percent, and eye glasses coverage was added.

“I think you can see the strike’s legacy in moments like this,” comments Jason Frank, the current union representative for Canadian Tire members. “Those workers who stood together and fought for their rights all those years ago set a standard for fairness that is still upheld today.”

Solid new agreement for Grand & Toy members

UFCW 1518 members at Grand & Toy ratified a strong new collective agreement on April 22, 2017.

The warehouse workers voted 93 percent in favour of the four year agreement, which contains many significant gains. “We were really pleased with how negotiations went. The employer was respectful and our bargaining committee was really focused on what members said they wanted,” explains union representative Ravi Dhindsa.

The contract earned members a significant 9.6 percent total wage hike, retroactive to December 1, 2016, as well as an increase to employer pension and dental contributions. The bargaining committee, made up of  Dennis Sonnenberg and Edgardo Bunagan, were successful in negotiating a higher eye wear allowance and – critically for workers always on their feet – an increase to the footwear allowance, which more than doubled from $60 to $150. There were also important wins around vacation, including the ability to take up to five days of vacation in accrued dollars and new language for statutory holidays “and any other holiday that may be declared by either the federal or provincial governments.”

Together with a higher shift premiums and sick day payouts and the new contract goes a long way to providing a stable income in a province where housing and childcare costs have skyrocketed. Says Dhindsa, “with affordability increasingly out of reach, solid collective agreements with steady gains are important for our members and all unionized workers.”

New steward course teaches contracts, confidence

How do I talk to management? When should I refuse unsafe work? What constitutes a grievance? Stewards from around the Lower Mainland learned the answer to these questions and more at Shop Steward Fundamentals, a new course offered by UFCW 1518.

The two-day beginner course focuses on the essential skills every steward needs to advocate for members and help the union in its fight for fairness in the workplace. Topics include investigating grievances, engaging members, meeting with management, and taking notes.

“Note taking sounds really boring,” comments union representative and facilitator Ashley Campbell. “But it’s a really important skill! A steward’s notes could end up as evidence in an arbitration, so it’s critical that they be accurate.”

Stewards also learn about key areas, such as discipline and occupational health and safety. “Those are hot topics for our members, particularly bullying and harassment, which now falls under the purview of WorkSafeBC” explains Campbell. “The respectful workplace language in our collective agreements helps our members understand that is the employer’s responsibility to provide a work environment free from bullying and harassment.”

Another important topic is member engagement, adds Campbell. “As a union, we are nothing without active, informed members. A big part of the steward role is talking to members, teaching them about the collective agreement and getting them involved in the work of the union, both on the job and in the community.”

Shop Steward Fundamentals, which replaces the previous basic steward course, was revamped and modernized to reflect current issues facing our stewards. The mix of different media and a range of hands-on exercises and activities makes for a more dynamic experience, Campbell says. “The steward role can be challenging. Stewards are called upon to be leaders, problem solvers, advocates and mentors. We wanted the course to speak directly to those challenges, so it would be as practical and as relevant possible.”

The most important thing stewards gain through taking the course? “Confidence,” affirms Campbell. “You can see it on their faces and hear it in their voices. Stewards leave here feeling more knowledgeable and better able to do their job.”

Look for more offerings of Shop Steward Fundamentals this summer and fall. Check the Events Calendar for upcoming dates and locations.

UFCW 1518 puts members’ safety on a podium

Sobeys has halted the controversial Podium cash handling procedure after UFCW 1518 alerted WorksafeBC of the danger it posed to members.

Sobeys had been trialing Podium in four Safeway locations, causing great concern amongst members and the union. According to union representative Fred Scott, installing Podium put members’ lives at risk. “Podium lacks several key risk controls,” says Scott. “Our members were fearful for their physical well-being, because once again the employer demonstrated disregard for their safety.” Podium replaced the previous cash handling procedure, in which workers counted money in a secured area and cashiers could drop excess cash into a black box.

Armed robbery is a known high risk for workers in the retail industry and a serious concern for the union. Over decades, UFCW 1518 has worked together with members to achieve safe cash handling procedures and compulsory regulations to minimize the risk of violence in our stores. Our advocacy gained the implementation of locked cash drop boxes, low cash floats, enhanced office security, and improved worker education and training requirements. These safeguards were supported by some of the more effective violence prevention regulations in the country.

But the implementation of Podium reversed many of those protective measures and increased risk of harm to our members, causing a number of them to invoke their duty to refuse unsafe work. Because Podium created an unacceptable risk to our members and violated their right to a safe workplace, UFCW 1518 asked WorkSafeBC to intervene. We requested they order Sobeys to cease the Podium trial immediately. We also asked WorkSafeBC to enforce occupational health and safety regulations that prohibit Sobeys from downgrading security and safety, placing our members at undue risk of injury.

Upon inspection of the four stores, WorkSafeBC found Sobeys to be in violation of BC’s Occupational Health & Safety Regulations and the Workers Compensation Act. As a result of WorkSafeBC’s orders, Sobeys has re-installed black drop boxes at all four stores.

“Halting the Podium trial is a real victory – one we couldn’t have achieved without the activism of our Joint Committee Worker Representatives, stewards and cashiers,” Scott comments. “They sent a clear message to Sobeys: put workers’ safety on a podium. Make their health and well-being a priority over a risky cash handling procedure.”