VANCOUVER – After sparking a fast-paced organizing drive, workers at Grocery Checkout are preparing to negotiate their first collective agreement and resurrect the community-focused model that attracted them to the jobs in the first place.
On Dec. 4, the BC Labour Board confirmed that employees at the workplace, located in the Students Union Building, are now members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1518. Most of the staff are students, whose frustration with the business reached a tipping point when the new owners bulldozed its “by students, for students” design.
“Part of what we loved about Grocery Checkout was that it was committed to hiring students, who need the work and know the campus community,” says one of the workers. “We got to choose what merchandise was sold, how the business was run…we chose the music — it was a lot of fun. And we were all in it together. The new owners abandoned that vision.”
Grocery Checkout started hiring from outside the student body, even cutting students’ hours to accommodate new full-time employees who were not properly trained by the employer or even selected through a rigorous, standardized hiring process. Nepotism was running rampant, and the dedicated staff knew that they had to act—talking to the employer individually was not working, and the situation was dire.
“People need this money to survive,” says one Grocery Checkout employee, “students are getting screwed over.”
In addition to inflation, students also contend with crushing tuition fees, which the UBC Board of Governors just voted to raise. The new UFCW 1518 members at Grocery Checkout need better compensation, more in-line with the other on-campus private businesses that provide higher wages, extended health benefits, and even meal vouchers. The Grocery Checkout staff want to prioritize guaranteed hours, guaranteed discounts, and a ban on non-student hires moving forward. These asks were a long time coming; even before the new owners took over Grocery Checkout, their employer was not fulfilling their promises.
“A lot of us were hired under false pretences,” says one of the workers. “We were told we would have a certain number of hours every week. That didn’t happen. We were told that we’d get raises based on performance. That didn’t happen.”
With a union, the workers can infuse the store with its old grassroots spirit and finally hold Grocery Checkout accountable. Most importantly, they can face the employer together. Unionizing “is the only thing we can do to get power back into our own hands,” according to one worker. Another bonus, they add, is that a union will outlive their employment and continue “protecting students of the future.” The young workers say they hope that their action inspires more student-run organizing drives. “It’s about setting a precedent for the other private businesses on campus and saying ‘No you don’t have to sit around and take this.’”
For more information, contact:
Celia Shea, UFCW 1518 Digital Organizer at 604-250-6483