Employer must pay ICBC fee: Arbitrator

About 15,000 workers in the community social services sector scored a win last month as the Labour Relations Board of BC ruled that the employer must continue to pay $75 for the renewal of employees’ Class 5 driver’s licences.

“This is an important victory,” said President Ivan Limpright. “Our members working in community social services are some of the hardest working, most caring people you’ll ever meet. They give so much of themselves, every day. But they shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to do the job.”

In 2017, the Community Social Services Bargaining Association (CSSBA) filed a policy grievance regarding whether community social services employers were required under the collective agreement to pay the $75 ICBC renewal fee for an employee’s Class 5 driver’s licence when the employer requires an employee to use a personal vehicle.

CSSBA is an association of 10 unions representing about 15,000 workers in the community social services sector. UFCW 1518 belongs to CSSBA and bargains collectively with the other unions in the association.

The Labour Relations Board (LRB) ruled that employers must pay the renewal fee and last month, dismissed an appeal of that decision by the Community Social Services Employers’ Association (CSSEA), the bargaining agent for 200 agencies that employ community social services workers.

This win follows a 2012 LRB ruling that required community social services employers to reimburse employees the costs associated with renewing their Class 4 driver’s licence. In that decision, arbitrator Vince Ready ruled that if an employee is required to hold a Class 4 licence as a condition of employment, the employer is required to reimburse the  ICBC License renewal fee, ICBC medical form processing fee and any remaining physician costs paid to the physician to complete the ICBC medical form not otherwise covered by the employee benefit plan up to the amount outlined in the MSP fee schedule.

“This is why we bargain collectively in an association with other unions. I’ve said it before: together we’re stronger. When we stand and fight together, we win,” said Limpright. “So when we head to the bargaining table later this year, our voice will be louder and our power more forceful as 10 unions working collectively to improve the lives of our members.”

Save-On-Foods bargaining moves toward monetary

UFCW 1518 met with Overwaitea Food Group last week as negotiations for the reopener of the collective agreement continued. The contract renewal deadline is March 31, midway through a 10-year deal.

“We had further discussions about management structure, pharmacy-related matters, steward recognition, probationary period, and scheduling,” said President Ivan Limpright. “We’ve made some progress, but we need to see more.”

UFCW 1518 represents about 10,000 members working at Save-On-Foods stores across the province.

“Look, the union and the company have met 32 times since bargaining started back in February. We should be farther along, but at times the conversations are difficult,” Limpright explained. The slow pace is due in part to the interest-based approach to bargaining, he said, a process that both parties committed to in negotiating the 2013 agreement. Interest-based bargaining is a negotiation strategy in which parties collaborate to find solutions to common problems. It focuses on developing mutually beneficial agreements based on the interests of both parties.

Over the last two months, the parties have broken into sub-committees and working groups to tackle a range of topics, including those identified by members during the union’s #MembersFirst bargaining outreach campaign last fall. Members submitted thousands of bargaining ideas, solutions and proposals, which the bargaining committee presented to the employer, including:

  • Sexual Harassment
  • Growing Our Future
  • Scheduling
  • Health & Safety
  • Future Opportunities
  • Transfer Opportunities & Job Vacancy Postings
  • Shop Steward Rights
  • Key Personnel issues & Management Structure
  • Workplace Improvements
  • Pharmacy & Central Fill
  • Silo Departments (ECommerce, Restaurant, Wine, Coffee Bar)
  • Quarterly Review & Store Acquisitions (former Safeway and Thrifty Foods)
  • Conversion Stores (former Cooper’s & PriceSmart)
  • Improvements to Wages & Benefits

“We’re not there yet, but we’re verging on monetary discussions. That’s when things will heat up,” said Limpright. “Make no mistake, we’ll be representing the will of our members at the table. They’ve told us loud and clear what they want, what they need, and quite frankly, what they deserve.”

Bargaining continues next week.






Union appeals to Minister of Labour as Sobeys bargaining falters

Talks between UFCW 1518 and Sobeys in the midterm reopener faltered last week as the company stated that the parties were too far apart. The union represents about 4500 members who work at 60 Safeway stores across the province. Sobeys purchased Canada Safeway in 2014, in what many industry experts call a botched acquisition.

The negotiating committees for both sides met on March 14 and 15, during which the company continued to focus exclusively on the concessions they presented on the first day of bargaining. “Sobeys hasn’t moved on their initial concessionary demands,” said President Ivan Limpright. “They’re coming after our members’ fairly bargained wages and benefits. It’s not right.”

According to Limpright, Sobeys wants to eliminate accumulated time off (ATO), decrease wages and require co-pay for benefits. He added: “Some Safeway locations have over 100 percent turnover – in large part because employees don’t make a living wage. These concessions won’t help Sobeys turn things around. They’ll only make the problem worse.”

Despite meeting 10 times over the past two months, Sobeys failed to respond any union proposals. “One of Sobeys’ key objectives is to lower labour costs,” explained Limpright. “We presented them with a proven method to achieve this in a way that wouldn’t impact our members’ wages and benefits. They offered no response. We presented cost-neutral proposals to help Sobeys achieve their stated goal of returning to profitability. They didn’t respond. They didn’t even bother to deal with housekeeping items.” Instead, Sobeys requested the union attend two days of non-binding mediation at the Labour Relations Board of BC. If that failed, the company said they would apply immediately to move to final offer selection interest arbitration.

“Sobeys just isn’t interested in bargaining,” Limpright affirmed. “That’s why I’ve written the Minister of Labour, Harry Bains, for his assistance. He can appoint a special officer with broad powers to help move bargaining along.” Section 106 of the BC Labour Code allows the minister “in the interest of industrial peace” to appoint a special officer to try to resolve the dispute through investigation, mediation and arbitration. The  powers of the special officer are broader than a traditional arbitration panel, and are binding.

“It’s an extraordinary step, but I believe this is the best way to commence meaningful dialogue, which has so far been absent in these negotiations,” said Limpright. “This is really serious. People’s livelihoods – their lives – are on the line.”


Union presents solutions, Sobeys offers no response

UFCW 1518 presented its comprehensive, evidence-based proposal package March 5, only to have Sobeys return to the bargaining table March 6 with no response. This followed several days of reviewing and discussing Sobeys’ financial and operational situation.

“Thousands of hours went into our proposal package,” said President Ivan Limpright. “Last summer, the Action Team conducted an extensive fact finding tour of every store  in the province, gathering data and talking to members. We also hired retail analysts to prepare an audit of the BC grocery market and develop a recovery plan for Sobeys.”

Limpright continued: “In the fall, we collected thousands bargaining ideas and proposals from members in our digital outreach campaign. And in November we hosted 200 stewards and activists at our bargaining conference, where they evaluated bargaining priorities and looked for solutions to common problems.”

The  bargaining committee, which consists of eight Safeway members, refined the data into an innovative set of interest-based proposals designed to boost sales, reduce costs and regain lost market share, Limpright explained. “We’re quite literally in this together. If the company doesn’t thrive, our members don’t either. But Sobeys didn’t seem prepared to seriously tackle their problems from a place of experience and knowledge. So we did it for them.”

According to Limpright, Sobeys must be prepared to engage in meaningful dialogue about the union’s proposals in order to fulfill their obligation to bargain in good faith. “I want to get a settlement. To get there, the company has to talk to us. Both sides need to sit down and talk about their problems, and how we might solve them together. That’s collective bargaining.”

Limpright said he is hopeful progress can be made when bargaining resumes next week. “We came with solutions but all Sobeys wants to talk about is poverty concessions. That tune has got to change if they want to fix this mess.”

Sobeys bows to union pressure as bargaining continues

Bowing to union pressure, Sobeys finally produced financial information the union had been requesting for many months as bargaining headed into its third week. UFCW 1518, which represents about 4500 Safeway workers and Sobeys, which owns 60 Safeway stores across British Columbia, are currently negotiating the reopener of a 10-year deal.

Negotiations began on February 7, when Sobeys declared war on the collective agreement by tabling a concessionary set of demands. For its part, the union bargaining committee presented a comprehensive, research-based proposal package that aims to improve members’ rights and benefits while helping the company regain lost market share and sales.

“The company is crying poverty and they want our members to make sacrifices. But they didn’t want to open their books. We told them that won’t fly – not with the union and certainly not with an arbitrator,” said President Ivan Limpright. “We can’t bargain in the dark. If we’re to make informed decisions that best serve our members, we needed that data.”

The union had previously requested financial information from Sobeys after the company threatened to put 20 stores on quarterly review, and again last fall, when Sobeys served the union with notice to bargain. “Back in October we told Sobeys if they provided us with the financial information we needed in a timely way, we’d be ready to bargain in January. Now here we are at the beginning of March and we’re only just starting to get a sense of the real financial picture,” Limpright commented.

Although Sobeys’ reluctance to produce financial documentation delayed negotiations, Limpright said it is a positive move toward open dialogue and meaningful negotiations. “Sobeys didn’t give us everything we asked for, and they declined our request for clarification on some of their numbers. But at least we’re moving in the right direction.”

He added: “We’ve been saying it all along: Sobeys has a revenue problem, not a labour cost problem. And their data confirm that it’s mismanagement and inefficient operations that are hurting their bottom line, not our members’ fairly bargained wages and benefits.”

Limpright said that the union’s comprehensive and innovative proposal package was designed to leverage members’ vast expertise and experience to help Sobeys regain the sales and market share lost since the bungled Safeway acquisition. “We hired retail industry consultants to provide their analysis of the situation, we sent our Action Team across the province, gathering data about store operations, and we convened a bargaining conference. We did all this to ensure our proposals were evidence-based and solution-oriented.”

Slashing and burning the collective agreement is not the road to recovery, affirmed Limpright. “The solution is not clawing back our members’ wages and benefits, but rather improving operations and increasing sales. We can help Sobeys do that. Together we can make Safeway into the grocery store of choice for British Columbians once again.”

Negotiations continue next week.