Carolyn Wrice, president Unifor Local 597
SHE’S ON STRIKE BECAUSE WELFARE IS NOT AN OPTION. “I want my kids to be proud of me,” says the middle aged, single mom in the Unifor video of striking Dominion store workers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I would actually make more if I was home on welfare,” she says. “But I don’t want to do that because I want my kids to be proud of me.” So, she’s on strike to get a wage that will allow her to keep working.
More than 1,400 workers at 11 Dominion store locations across Newfoundland, from St. John’s to Stephenville, all members of Unifor, went on strike August 22 after overwhelmingly voting to turn down the latest contract offered by Dominion’s parent company, Loblaw Companies Limited. The workers have been working without a contract since October 2019.
Essential then, essential now
“The members have spoken,” said Unifor Local 597 President Carolyn Wrice.“They want to make it clear to their employer that they want to be treated with respect, decent jobs and good wages,”
“These are the very workers who supported us all during this pandemic,” said Wrice, “and I hope that the public will support us now.”
Loblaws continues to make it difficult to earn a decent living as a Dominion employee. The union says more than 80 per cent of workers are part-time, with low pay, limited access to benefits, and without a raise since spring of 2018.
The corporation reduced the possibility of full-time work even more in 2019 when it eliminated 60 full-time positions (20% of all full-time positions) in its Newfoundland stores.
The Loblaw offer just rejected by the workers contained a $1 an hour wage increase. Just half of what the workers lost when the corporation cut a $2 per hour pandemic pay increase in the middle of bargaining in June.
“That don’t show us that they really respected (workers) in any way. You know, in the middle of collective bargaining — that don’t look good,” said Wrice.
Wrice says the typical hourly wage for workers such as cashiers, barely above minimum wage of $11.65 an hour.
A ‘fighting mood’
Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, says the three main Canadian grocers ( Loblaw, Sobeys’ owner Empire Co. Ltd. and Metro Inc.) should view the situation in Newfoundland as a “new normal” because of the rising frustration among their employees.
“People are feeling disrespected. They’re feeling furious. And people are in a fighting mood,” he said. “We’re quite pleased about that, frankly, because it’s about time that we had the debate in this country about who really are the essential workers.”
Dias said the pandemic bonus cuts had a major impact on the Dominion talks in Newfoundland, but Unifor is also concerned with a trend toward part-time employment in the grocery sector.
“It’s one thing about the money, but people are just furious,” he said. “People are legitimately in an ornery mood.”
Court sides with Loblaw
The way to a win for the workers narrowed on August 28 when the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador granted Loblaw a temporary injunction until September 18 to stop the union from picking trucks engaged in necessary maintenance and inventory management.
“We were preventing trucks from going in and out,” says Wrice, “but we allowed any people, any person or any charitable organization to go into the property and remove anything that was going to food banks.”
The court order does allow picketers to stop people for up to a minute, who are crossing the picket line to go to other businesses in the same building, such as a doctor’s office or liquor store.
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