Members at the Sointula Co-op gain a new store and a better contract

With a 100 percent YES vote, UFCW 1518 members at the Sointula Co-op on Malcolm Island ratified a new collective agreement last month.

The Sointula Co-op is the oldest unionized co-op in Canada and is an essential part of the Sointula community. This latest round of bargaining dovetailed with something workers had been advocating for years: building a new store in place of the current one, which is over 100 years old. This win also presented a challenge during bargaining: making sure members didn’t end up paying the price of this necessary investment.

“We needed a new store badly! Our building was falling down,” comments Monty Hals, a long-serving shop steward and bargaining committee member. Hals and her 16 co-workers were well-aware of the financial pressure faced by the company. That’s why the bargaining committee took a cooperative approach to ensure the new collective agreement included improvements for members as well as a new store

“The employer came to the table thinking the new store should take priority over our members,” asserts union representative Ashley Campbell. “We argued that it was our members who had dedicated their life to this co-op, who had kept it standing all these years. The employer needed to acknowledge that and I’m pleased to say they did!”

The three-year contract features a higher wage increase than previous contracts, as well as domestic violence leave provisions, joint labour management committee meeting language and no major concessions. The employer committed to build the much needed new store in mid-2020.

Both Hals and Campbell are encouraged by the positive shift in the union’s relationship with the employer. “This round of bargaining went smoother and was more laid back,” comments Hals. “We can work together now,” adds Campbell. “We worked very collaboratively this time and felt the employer was finally recognizing members. A positive bargaining relationship is good for our members.”

UFCW 1518 votes on October 20!

The municipal election is fast approaching! This October 20, working people across British Columbia will head to the polls to elect new mayors, city councilors, park board commissioners and school board trustees.

This is a critically important election! Local governments have a major impact on people’s daily lives, yet municipal elections historically have the lowest voter turnout. Union members need to change that.

The labour vote is powerful: there are 500,000 unionized workers throughout the province. If we all vote for progressive candidates, we can improve the lives of working people, our communities and the environment.

Will you vote?

All working people should vote this October 20. And bring your family, friends and neighbours. Organize a carpool of your co-workers or elders in your neighbourhood. UFCW 1518 members take the pledge here.

Want to volunteer?

Want to volunteer with UFCW 1518 to help elect progressive candidates who promise to make things better for workers? UFCW 1518 members sign up here.

  • MONDAY OCTOBER 1 – Join us for a FREE Campaign Fundamentals Training  from 1-4pm OR 6-9pm at the Maritime Labour Centre. UFCW 1518 members sign up here.
  • SATURDAY OCTOBER 13 – Join us for Super Saturday to knock on doors of union members around Vancouver and help get out the vote! UFCW 1518 members sign up here.

Don’t know who to vote for?

Here’s who the Canadian Labour Congress and UFCW 1518 think are progressive candidates who will make life better for working people:

The Vancouver & District Labour Council is endorsing Kennedy Stewart for mayor and this progressive slate.

Why is voting so important?

Check out the latest issue of Update Magazine to find out why all workers should vote this October 20.

Visit Elections BC to find out:

A Vote for Pro Rep is a Vote for Democracy

Patrick Johnson, UFCW 1518 Executive Assistant, outside the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, BC

With low voter turnout for elections at every level of government plaguing modern democracy, many people wonder if they should bother voting at all. Does my vote even count? would-be voters wonder.

Voter apathy and elections won with far less than a majority are just two of the reasons the BC NDP are holding a referendum on proportional representation, or “Pro Rep,” this fall. In 2017, the NDP and the Green Party, which now form British Columbia’s minority government, ran on an election platform that promised electoral reform, seeking to eliminate the ability of political parties to get 100 per cent of the power with a minority of votes. According to the government, with Pro Rep, every vote counts; for example, when a party gets 40 per cent of the votes, it gets 40 per cent of the seats.

“The idea is that everyone’s vote matters,” explains Executive Assistant Patrick Johnson. “With Pro Rep, people don’t have to worry about strategic voting or wasted votes.” Most of the world’s democracies already use proportional representation, and time has shown it to produce stable governments that work for people, not corporate agendas or special interests. “It also means a stronger voice for each region of the province, especially in the north and interior,” Johnson adds. “That means higher voter turnout, more youth participation and a more balanced government that better reflects BC’s diversity.”

The idea is that everyone’s vote matters. With Pro Rep, people don’t have to worry about strategic voting or wasted votes.

In the current, first-past-the-post system, the candidate with the most votes wins; under proportional representation, voters elect representatives in proportion to the way they voted. “Right now, voter turnout is not high,” says Betty Bi, a steward and food clerk at PriceSmart. “I think proportional representation can be more fair. It can more clearly show what people want, and what party they support.” Bi, a delegate to the Vancouver and District Labour Council, attended the BC NDP’s Forward conference in May, where she learned about Pro Rep. “It’s another way to encourage people to come out to vote and to let them know every vote is important,” adds Bi, noting that she will be encouraging her co-workers to mail in their ballots this November.

There will be two questions on the ballot. Those recommended by Attorney General David Eby after an extensive public consultation are:

  1. Which should British Columbia use for elections to the Legislative Assembly?
    A. The current first-past-the-post voting system
    B. A proportional representation voting system
  2. If British Columbia adopts a proportional representation voting system, which of the following voting systems do you prefer?
    A. Dual Member Proportional (DMP)
    B. Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
    C. Rural-Urban PR

Ballots for the referendum on proportional representation will be mailed in October and must be returned by November 30. Approval to change to Pro Rep requires a 50 percent plus one vote and if passed, the new system would be enacted before the next provincial election in 2021.

Get Your Vote On! Why You Should Vote this October

 

UFCW 1518 members are 22,000 votes strong

Katrina Chen loves door knocking. At the doorstep of many Burnaby homes, the former UFCW member has been determined to find answers. “What’s the most pressing issue in your community?” Chen has often asked Burnaby residents. Their answers are many and varied: parks, street lighting, public education, community safety.

Chatting with her neighbours, Chen hears a common, if unrecognized theme: the importance of local government. It reminds her of why she first became involved in municipal politics, running for school board trustee in 2014 and winning. Chen is now MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed and the Minister of State for Child Care in the provincial NDP government. But her inspiration for public service remains the same: helping people make positive change in their communities. And nowhere is that more powerful and possible than in municipal government.

“At the doorstep, I’ve heard people talk about local politics without often realizing it,” Chen comments. “Local government is the closest to the people.” But there’s a disconnect, she adds. Although municipal government is the most accessible to constituents, with the possibility to make a real difference, people are not using it as a change maker.

“If you look at municipal government voter turnout, it tends to be low – way lower than provincial and federal elections. And yet they are the ones that can make a real difference in the community,” says Chen. Indeed, while the last provincial and federal elections saw a voter turnout in BC of about 60 percent and 70 percent respectively, in the municipal election, only about 40 percent of eligible British Columbian voters exercised their right to vote.

On October 20, BC voters will return to the polls to elect new municipal governments accross the province. So what is the role of unionized workers in this democratic moment? “Not only do we have the power of organized labour and strength in numbers to affect progressive change, we have an obligation. As union members, we are obliged to cast our vote and participate in the democratic process,” asserts President Ivan Limpright. “People don’t show up to vote these days because they’ve stopped believing their vote will make a difference. But when workers show solidarity, our votes do count. As UFCW 1518 members, we are 22,000 votes strong and as unionized workers, we are 500,000 votes stronger in BC. It’s a fact: the labour vote counts.”

CHANGE YOU CAN FEEL

Frank Farrell is a UFCW 1518 member who is a well-known figure in his hometown of Smithers, BC. It’s no wonder, after working for 20 years at his community’s Safeway and defending workers’ rights as a shop steward. As a school board trustee, he has also been a voice for families and students in his district for the last decade.

Farrell is running for his fourth term as trustee in the upcoming municipal election. His motivation is personal: “I have three kids – two are in kindergarten and my third one has special needs,” says Farrell. Through his position on the Bulkley Valley school board, Farrell has been making tangible change not only for his family, but for his community too. “My experience as a school trustee has been very personal in terms of engagement,” comments Farrell. “You’re constantly meeting local people with issues that are important to them.” And because of that, their issues become important to him too.

Local government is often considered a training ground for democracy. Political decision-making at the municipal level involves more direct participation than provincial or national policymaking and its effects are often immediate. From reporting a missing sign at an intersection to running for office, there is much opportunity for individuals to make a difference through municipal government. Farrell knows this well. After hearing from constituents, the Bulkley Valley School Board lobbied tirelessly for a new elementary school in the area. In 2020, the new school will open its door.

“School trustees deserve a lot of credit,” says Judy Darcy, NDP MLA for New Westminster and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Many of them fought very hard with the previous government on issues relating to special needs kids in classrooms, ESL in classrooms and curriculum that teaches kids the true history of our country, especially around reconciliation. Trustees can make an enormous difference.”

While municipal decisions directly affect people and their communities, the importance of city governance goes beyond local matters. Cities have a key role to play in solving BC’s pressing issues, affirms Darcy. Affordable housing, for example, is a top priority for the provincial government, but partnership with cities is critical. “Municipalities have the ability to set rules for development and ensure there is affordable rental stock available, that there are enough childcare and community spaces available,” she says. “If municipal government wants to work with the province we can move faster, so that people can afford to live in the city and stop living on the streets.”

Local government can have a positive effect on people’s everyday lives, in ways both small and big: from fixing potholes to supporting transgender people through washroom signage. That’s why it is imperative that people vote in this October’s municipal election, says President Limpright. “There’s no other level of government where a vote will have more of an impact than at the local level,” he comments. “Municipal government affects our members on a day-to-day basis. The results of October’s elections will bring change all British Columbians will feel, for better or for worse. If union members vote, it will be for the better.”

 

 

A VOTE FOR LABOUR

When government is an ally to unions, the influence of the labour movement grows, and unions’ ability to fullfil their social justice mandate strengthens. Before being elected to provincial government, Judy Darcy was a face of the Canadian labour movement. As the former National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Secretary-Business Manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU), she kept hitting walls with a Liberal government in power. That’s what finally motivated her to run for office. “It became clear to me at some point that government holds all the power,” recounts Darcy. “While working at HEU, we kept running into a BC Liberal government that had no respect for health care workers, that had been determined to privatize services and cut collective bargaining rights. I decided to step up in order to fight back.”

Now that Darcy and the NDP are in government, workers can feel the difference. The minimum wage has gone up twice and will continue to rise until it reaches $15.20 an hour in 2021. Medical Services Plan premiums have been eliminated and BC’s Labour Relations Code, currently skewed in favour of employers, is being reviewed. In another victory for labour, Premier John Horgan announced the community benefits agreement, a landmark accord for key public-sector infrastructure projects that will prioritize better wages, improved training and apprenticeships, and more trades opportunities for Indigenous people, women and youth across BC.

Because municipal governments wield such influence over people’s lives too, labour councils are paying close attention to the upcoming elections. They are carefully deciding which candidates to endorse and organizing workers to get out and vote this October. Many cities throughout the province are already bringing positive change to workers as living wage employers, including the City of Vancouver, the largest city in Canada to commit to paying its workers a living wage.

Rosanna Hussain has caught the local government bug. A HeadStart graduate and pharmacy technician at Save-On-Foods Central Fill facility, Hussain was hired by the Vancouver and District Labour Council to work as an election organizer. The focus of her role is canvassing, encouraging workers to vote, knocking doors and connecting with people online and in person. She’s excited to help make a difference for workers in the city where she was born. “To know that I’m taking part in this important process in this city is a very incredible feeling for me,” says Hussain. “It is important for our members and our union to be involved in lower levels of government because these candidates will affect us on issues such as education, housing affordability, recreation. It is important to encourage members to vote and I believe unions have the power to do that.”

Katrina Chen sees an obvious parallel between the work of unions and local government, as well as a natural alliance. “As union members we believe in working collectively. Municipal government does too,” she asserts. “At the municipal level you are working with your neighbours and your community to make the changes you want to see. As in the workplace, at the local level we can have a lot of influence.”

OUR DEMOCRATIC DUTY

 

Hussain is not the only politically active member keen to make a difference this October. Stefan Nielsen, a Safeway member and HeadStart graduate worked as a vote counter during the last provincial election. Since 2016, Nielsen has also been a UFCW 1518 delegate on the VDLC. As part of that work he sat on the labour council’s candidate endorsement committee, which assessed all Vancouver candidates from a labour and social justice perspective, and met with all mayoral candidates for that city.

After two days of democratic debate among delegates, the VDLC released its list of endorsed candidates last July. “Our choices were both strategic and what we felt would be best for the city in terms of policy, treating workers fairly and having progressive ideas about housing,” comments Nielsen. “Decisions that city governments make affect the lives of our members to an incredible degree. So it’s important we choose the right people.”

If we can mobilize members to turn to the polls that’s enough to turn an election. We have numbers and they mean something.

One significant change that will level the playing field between candidates in this year’s municipal election is the ban on corporate and union donations to political campaigns. It was one of the NDP’s election promises that they swiftly made into law after taking office last summer. Now that big money is out of local politics and the ability to curry favour through large campaign donations has been eliminated, politics can refocus on people. This is why labour endorsements will have an even greater impact on October 20. “If we can mobilize members to turn to the polls that’s enough to turn an election,” Nielsen says. “The population of a Save-On-Foods in a small town could swing an election. We have numbers and they mean something.”

Elections are indeed a numbers game. A strong collective labour vote is all that is needed to change the course of these elections. And unions have the responsibility to use this power wisely. Our duty to our members and the community this October is to cast a vote for fairness. You don’t need to call yourself an activist or political junkie to get informed and make your way to the ballot box. You only need to care. “All across the province there is a tremendous opportunity for change,” asserts President Limpright. “We have the power within our union to help make this change a change for the better.” In this exciting time for municipalities in BC, labour is positioned to lead the change. This October 20, it starts with you at a voting station.

Minister of Finance and BC Fed Prez meet with union leadership, staff

Two leading women power brokers sat down with Secretary-Treasurer Kim Novak in a wide-ranging conversation about the relationship between labour and government today.

Finance Minister Carole James and BC Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger met with Secretary-Treasurer Novak and UFCW 1518 staff today. Minister James, who is responsible for revitalizing the NDP in the early 2000s, said she was proud of the work her party does to care for the people of British Columbia and she thanked UFCW 1518 for our work in helping elect the first New Democrat government in 16 years.

Lanzinger, the first woman president of the BC Fed, acknowledged the novelty of having a government that actually listens to and addresses the concerns of working people. “The Minister of Labour actually answers the phone when I call,” she quipped. “We have regular meetings. We don’t get everything we want and we don’t always agree, but it’s a great improvement for the working people of BC.”

Lanzinger also talked about the importance of paying attention to politics, plugging the upcoming referendum on proportional representation. “That’s what will give voters, and your members, a true voice, because every vote will matter. Under ProRep, the voting process will be more fair. And more people will be engaged.”

Minister James said it was the government’s responsibility to engage young voters in the political process and that they needed to do more. She also noted that although her party had implemented 70 percent of its campaign promises in their first year in power, they had to “get better at letting people know that they can count on the NDP to deliver on our commitments.”

As Minister of Finance, James said she receives many requests to fund worthy projects, making for some tough decisions. But, she added, spending on things like child care and housing are priorities for the NDP because they support families and bolster the economy at the same time.

“I’m incredibly honoured that Finance Minister James and President Lanzinger took the time to meet with our staff and answer our questions. They are smart, influential and dedicated leaders who are working hard to put the interest of working people at the forefront, and they have the drive to make important and progressive change happen,” said Secretary-Treasurer Novak.

Sobeys/Safeway bargaining: Special Officer directs Sobeys to discuss FreshCo plans & job security

Special Officer Vince Ready has directed Sobeys to reveal information about its future plans for operations in British Columbia as well as discuss job security and severance related to opening its discount banner FreshCo.

This comes two weeks after UFCW 1518 members working at Safeway rejected the Special Officer’s non-binding recommendations made in the ongoing dispute with Sobeys. After a province-wide vote resulted in a 99% NO vote, the union bargaining committee had strong mandate to turn down recommendations that threatened to gut the collective agreement.

In a letter to both parties, Mr. Ready directed them to enter into mediation on September 10 and 11 to attempt to resolve outstanding issues. He further directed Sobeys to disclose “future plans regarding potential locations and number” of FreshCo stores in BC – information the union has long sought – and to discuss “provisions to deal with displacement of union members” including transfers and severance as Safeway stores transition to the new banner.

“Mr. Ready heard our members loud and clear,” said President Ivan Limpright. “Their 99 percent NO vote signaled that his recommendations were unacceptable. Finally, we hope to have real mediation to get Sobeys to disclose their FreshCo plans, and to discuss job security for our members.”

Failing a mediated agreement in the negotiations for the reopener of the collective agreement, the Special Officer will issue a final and binding award, either through final offer selection as provided in the collective agreement or interest arbitration under Section 106 of the BC Labour Relations Code. In the meantime, Mr. Ready will issue an interim order to deal with severance, employment security, and the financial circumstances of certain stores.

“The Special Officer has begun to demonstrate an understanding of the union’s serious concerns. Job security is key and he knows that,” President Limpright continued. Perhaps the most important aspect of the interim order is Mr. Ready’s pledge to address the union’s concerns about the permanent reduction to the Safeway collective agreements. “Protecting the collective agreement is paramount. The Special Officer has heard Sobeys’ side. Now he’s beginning to see ours.”

You can read Mr. Ready’s letter (with contact information redacted for privacy) here.