Sobeys declared war on the collective agreement and its Safeway workers by tabling nothing but drastic concessions for a workforce already plagued by poverty wages and poor working conditions. This follows Sobeys’ announcement last week of the closure of 10 Safeway locations across the lower mainland, and UFCW 1518’s subsequent illegal lockout complaint to the BC Labour Relations Board.
Negotiations for the re-opener of the 10-year agreement between UFCW 1518 and Sobeys began Wednesday, with presentations from both sides. Sobeys’ package was brief, but deadly, seeking poverty concessions from all workers, many of whom struggle to make ends meet. The company demanded the elimination of accrued time off (ATO), the expansion of excluded positions (including vendor stocking), the elimination of maximization of hours and a reduction of the vacation cap by one week. Together these concessions would eliminate jobs and sharply reduce hours for those at the bottom of the wage scale, workers who already have difficulty cobbling together a living. Direct monetary hits include proposals to slash overtime pay, cut statutory holiday pay and gouge benefits like health and dental. Sobeys also proposed cutting wages for long term part-timers.
“Their concession wish list is a betrayal, plain and simple. It’s an affront to our members and Safeway’s former good name. More than that, it’s out of touch with the grocery industry in BC and what will work to create a thriving grocery business,” said President Ivan Limpright. “Sobeys is on the path to becoming a poverty employer. That is the hard truth. The concessions they tabled are a slap in the face to our members who built Safeway. Many dedicated their lives to Safeway – 30, 40 years – and were damn proud to work there. Now, they’re just embarrassed and demoralized.”
President Limpright said the union put thousands of hours into preparing for negotiations, conducting an extensive online bargaining outreach campaign, hosting the #MembersFirst bargaining conference, and electing members to the negotiating committee. The committee spent the last month refining the thousands of bargaining proposals, ideas and solutions submitted by members. “They worked tirelessly to create a comprehensive and innovative set of proposals that will improve our members’ rights and benefits under the collective agreement. More than that, our proposals will also help the company regain the market share and sales they squandered since acquiring Safeway in 2013,” said President Limpright. “We get it. If the company thrives, we all thrive. But Sobeys clearly needs our help to turn things around because they haven’t been able to do that in almost five years.”
This round of negotiations is a golden opportunity to address common problems faced by both the union and the employer, President Limpright added. “We disagree on a lot, but we need to chart a path forward. I think we start to do that by working collectively toward solutions that benefit both union and employer.” He said that while he’s prepared to bargain collectively, he won’t be bullied by scare tactics and threats. “I won’t sit idly by while Sobeys tries to rob our members of their fairly bargained wages and benefits. We filed an illegal lockout complaint against Sobeys last week after their store closure announcement. We leafleted stores targeted for closure to encourage the public to help save Safeway. And union representatives and bargaining committee members will be visiting stores across the province to talk about the union’s proposals, as well Sobeys’ poverty concessions,” he said. “We will continue to do everything we can to pressure the company into a place of reason and fairness. You can take that to the bank.”
Negotiations are scheduled to resume next week. For more information please visit www.ufcw1518.com/sobeys.