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.”