Union files another complaint against Sobeys as transfer process stalls

UFCW 1518 has filed another complaint against Sobeys at the BC Labour Board, this time for failing to provide information needed to assist members affected by the Safeway closures. On January 23, Sobeys announced it would shutter 10 stores across the Lower Mainland and Mission.

The complaint follows the union’s repeated requests for information about Sobeys’ plans for all Safeway stores, including redevelopment plans, as well as  financial information for all locations to assist in the ongoing Section 54 discussions. “We’ve now had three Section 54 meetings with Sobeys, and we’ve made little progress. We can’t make decisions of such enormity for our members without all of the relevant information,” said President Ivan Limpright. “It’s impossible for us and our members to make informed decisions about the future while we’re in the dark.”

UFCW 247, which represents Safeway members working in the meat and deli departments, also filed a Section 54 complaint against Sobeys.

Sobeys has previously stated that it has provided a “fulsome disclosure of the company’s plans at this point” although the union has no more information than what the company has told the public through the media.

Section 54 of the BC Labour Code allows for the development of an adjustment plan if the employer introduces “a measure, policy, practice or change that affects the terms, conditions or security of employment of a significant number of employees to whom a collective agreement applies…” Although there is store closure language with strong protections for members in the collective agreement, the language has never been applied en masse. Section 54 of the code requires the employer to meet in good faith with the union to work out a plan to assist members through the transition.

“Sobeys’ decision to close 10 Safeway stores will massively affect our members – not just at those locations, but at the other stores that will be receiving staff from the closed stores. More than 600 members are facing major life changes, either because they have to uproot their lives and families, or because they lost their job – some of them after 10, 15 years with the company,” President Limpright said. “I don’t think Sobeys understands the implications of their actions, not only for our members, but for the BC economy.”

President Limpright said the union is working tirelessly to address the situation, and thanked members for their patience. “We understand how stressful this is for our members. They want answers and we can’t provide any – mainly because Sobeys won’t give us the information we need. But as soon as we know more, our members will too – I promise.”

Members at stores slated for closure do not need to notify the employer of their desire to transfer or of their location preference, he added. “The 30-day window referred to in section 8.07 of the collective agreement will start once they receive their option forms.”

The next Section 54 discussion with Sobeys takes place March 2.

Sobeys declares war on Safeway workers, collective agreement

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.

Let the bargaining begin! Union & SOF meet to hammer out deal

UFCW 1518 met with Save-On-Foods as negotiations for the re-opener of the collective agreement got underway Friday.

Bargaining committees for the union and the company met at UFCW 1518’s main office in New Westminster for the first of two dozen scheduled bargaining dates. The parties have committed to engage in interest-based collective bargaining, an approach that saw both sides make strides in the 2013 round of negotiations. Interest-based bargaining, also known as mutual gains bargaining, is “a practical alternative that can benefit both parties by allowing companies to remain competitive and unions to remain relevant.” [source] In contrast to positional bargaining, this approach enables management to gain flexibility and labour peace; in exchange, “union members gain employment stability, skills upgrading and a greater voice in decision making.” [source]

“Interest-based bargaining is only possible where there is trust and mutual respect. After working very hard, we now have that with Save-On-Foods, and this approach has served our members well,” explained President Ivan Limpright. “It’s allowed us to identify common goals that we share with the employer, and that helps us approach more difficult topics from a common place of understanding. I have every expectation that we will continue to build on the gains already achieved and continue to make advancements for all of our Save-On/Overwaitea members.”

The day kicked off with a two-hour presentation from the employer, outlining their position within the provincial grocery market, and their goals and concerns for this round of negotiations. Following that, two members from the union bargaining committee presented on their key bargaining objectives. Wes Schellenberg, a 36-year Overwaitea employee, spoke about the importance of a living wage for newer members.

Low wages and benefits as well as lack of training for new hires creates high turnover, he said, which in turn places pressure on senior staff and key personnel, who are expected to do more, with less. “I would go as far as to say that the company is hemorrhaging its talent and future.” The company acknowledged that retention is a serious problem and said they are looking to the union to help find a solution. Schellenberg also raised sexual harassment as a problem for members, noting that protections need to be put in place.

Twelve-year member Brianna Rota spoke about the serious issues affecting members in smaller, rural stores. “I see a lot of injustices, inequalities and issues and I want to work toward collaborative solutions.” Rota said the lack of a living wage, which leads to poverty for a lot of Save-On-Foods employees, is devastating. “The people I work with live paycheque to paycheque. They are the working class poor. They can’t afford to shop where they work: they shop at food banks. They are homeless: they couch surf and live in their cars.” Rota urged the company to remember the human face of negotiations. “Thousands of people will be impacted by the decisions we make within this room. These decisions must reflect compassion, humility, empathy and understanding.”

President Limpright concluded the opening session, setting a tone that was collaborative yet firm. He referred to the shared values and goals that were agreed to in the last round of bargaining. While he commended both company and union for the progress made since then, he said there is more work still to be done. In terms of the shared goal of economic security, President Limpright acknowledged that Save-On-Foods had overcome its financial issues, expanded through the acquisition of stores and grown its business. “But despite profitability, many of our members still don’t make a living wage. Our members helped Save-On Foods achieve its economic goals. Now it’s time for the company to hold up their end of the bargain.”

Sobeys begins illegal lockout of hundreds of workers: union

Sobeys has begun an illegal lockout of more than 600 Safeway workers, according to a complaint filed by UFCW 1518 at the BC Labour Relations Board today. The complaint comes in the wake of Sobeys’ announcement that it will close 10 Safeway stores across the lower mainland. Sobeys further stated that it would consider re-opening five of those locations if the company received an “appropriate” collective agreement for FreshCo, its discount banner from Ontario.

UFCW 1518 President Ivan Limpright said the timing of the announcement coupled with the carrot-and-stick nature of the FreshCo news and the fact that the pharmacies at the five locations earmarked for FreshCo will remain open provide grounds for the illegal lockout complaint. “Look, we’re about to begin negotiations with the company. And Sobeys picks this moment to announce 10 store closures? The company’s message is clear: it will re-open at least five of those stores only if the union and our members accept a substandard agreement,” said President Limpright.

“That constitutes an illegal lockout. It’s a threat intended to intimidate our members, weaken the union’s position and further Sobeys’ own cause at the bargaining table,” President Limpright added. The BC Labour Relations Code defines an illegal lockout as “closing a place of work, a suspension of work or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ a number of…employees” in order to compel the employees to agree to conditions of employment.”

“It’s one thing to close because of financial underperformance – that’s any company’s right. But this illegal lockout is a bold and callous move to strip our members of their employment and their rights under a legally negotiated collective agreement – that’s shameful.” Sobeys handed termination letters to 660 UFCW 1518 members on January 23 following the store closure announcement. “This is devastating for our members. Absolutely devastating,” President Limpright said. “We’re ready to negotiate a fair and reasonable collective agreement and Sobeys is playing with our members’ lives. We don’t agree that a discount banner requires a discount collective agreement. ”