IT DIDN’T MATTER THAT IT WAS THANKSGIVING, Danni Singleton was still out walkin the line. Just like she’s been doing for the 50 days since August 22 when Unifor Local 597 went on strike.
The 1,400 workers in Danni’s local work at 11 Dominion stores across Newfoundland and Labrador. They are on strike and picketing the closed stores to win better wages and full-time jobs from the company, which classifies more than 80% of the workers as part-time and pays most little more than minimum wage.
The strike vote came after Loblaw, Sobey and other major grocery store chains eliminated a $2-an-hour pay top-up in recognition of the high risk of working in the middle of a pandemic.
Danni has worked at Dominion in St. John’s for eight years, she says the extra $2 an hour made a real difference. “It was not having to worry about, ‘Oh jeez, can I pay my rent and my phone bill this month?’”
The striking workers picket all Loblaw operations including those owned by Loblaw or where Loblaw products are sold. On October 8 they formed a “human solidarity chain” at the Loblaw-owned Kevin’s No Frills in St. John’s.
The human chain was linked together by six-foot long “ropes of hope,” to allow the workers to physically distance during the information picket. The workers handed out information flyers and asked the public to show their solidarity by shopping elsewhere.
“We are all one … we are 1,400 and we are strong,” said a pharmacist’s assistant who participated in the action. “We are not backing down until we get what we want and we are in it for the long haul.”
Kim Neil drove for an hour to join around 100 picketers outside a No Frills store in Paradise in early October.
A 30-year veteran at Dominion, Neil said, “Looking around seeing this group of people, supporting each other, is amazing. When you have that support from your brothers and sisters, it gives you that boost to say, ‘I’m OK to do this.
“I think people are sick of being pushed around, not being treated fairly. Fair wages, sick days for part-timers, more full-time jobs. We want to work for Dominion, but they are not willing to be fair.”
The strike enjoys broad public support. A rally organized in late September drew members of the general public, and representatives from other unions and groups to a Dominion store. As they marched around the building, passers-by honked in support.
People have brought the workers pizza and fried chicken and a law firm donated $1,000, which the workers used to rent a warming shelter.
Wallowing in wealth
The strikers took direct aim at the Weston family, who own Loblaws, in an ad calling for a living wage. During the first six months of the pandemic, the Weston family’s net worth shot up by $1.6 billion, the ad noted, making clear that there is more than enough money for workers to receive a living wage.
“Loblaw is a Canadian retail giant, owned by one of the country’s richest families, yet its workers are struggling to make ends meet with precarious jobs that offer low-pay and limited benefits,” Unifor Local 597 President Carolyn Wrice commented.
Supporting the strikers
Paula Hennebury has worked at Dominion in St. John’s for 25 years. She says she misses the customers. “But we do get to see them here, they stop by and say hello. It’s a hard time of the year to be out, but we’re strong, we’re going to keep going as long as we have to.”
“We’re pushing through it. We could be inside doing what we love to do, but we gotta fight for the future of everybody else,” she said.
Danni agrees that it’s tough to be out in the empty parking lot on Thanksgiving. But as she talks, passing cars beep their horns in support.
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