2020: A Year of Solidarity in Review

2020 has been a year none of us will ever forget! The work our members have, and continue to do on the frontlines has been remarkable.

As we wrap up an incredibly challenging year, we wanted to provide you with an overview of the work your union has done as well as to give you insight into what you can expect from us as we move into 2021:

Life before the COVID-19 pandemic

It is hard to believe that there was any time in 2020 that we were not living with the challenges of a global pandemic… but here is some of what we accomplished in the early days of this year:

  • workers at Clarity Cannabis voted YES to join UFCW 1518– the first privately owned cannabis dispensary in Canada to join a union!
  • Lifestyles Markets in Victoria voted YES to joining UFCW 1518
  • Workers at VegPro became members of UFCW 1518 through a remedial certification. This ruling was the first remedial certification issued by the BC Labour Board since the code underwent reform in 2019!
  • UFCW 1518 successfully stood up for non-unionized workers at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler who had their gratuities garnished by the employer, winning an $85,000 payout settlement for these workers
  • We held Steward Appreciation Events in Victoria and Nanaimo – the last in-person events that we held in 2020
  • Community Health Workers in the Northern Health Authority saw a win for part-time employees whose vacation pay had been capped
  • Members ratified a first contract at MEC in Vancouver and Victoria
  • Re-opener negotiations began March 2 with Save On Foods, with thousands of members participating in either focus groups, submitting proposals, and answering surveys on what mattered most to them
  • On the same day, March 2 – mediation began with Sobeys to have benefits restored in Appendix B stores that had become profitable

March 11: World Health Organization Declares a Global Pandemic

In March, UFCW 1518 acted quickly to address growing concerns about member and staff safety as numbers of COVID-19 cases in Canada began to rise. We quickly transformed our headquarters – normally a buzzing and busy office in New Westminster – into a command centre housing just a few key staff. With heavy hearts, we suspended union rep visits to units so that members and staff could stay safe.

While we had to change how we do business, we had no intention of letting our members down when they needed us the most. We turned to digital tools to push the envelope on our activism, advocacy, and engagement on behalf of our members. The first step was securing safer working conditions and better benefits for our members: grocery, retail, food processing, and health care professionals who had been transformed into frontline workers overnight. We sent letters to the government and launched a letter-writing campaign demanding restrictions to the numbers of shoppers allowed in stores, enforcement of physical distancing, creating presumptive Worksafe coverage for workers who tested positive for COVID-19 and calling for improvements to Employment Insurance benefits. We also demanded that all essential service workers, including UFCW 1518 members, be given access to emergency childcare spaces as schools and daycares closed. Nearly 6,000 community members joined in our online activism, sending a strong message to government and employers.

We pushed hard for recognition pay from employers and advocated for better health and safety regulations and saw the installation of plexiglass, crowd control measures and physical distancing rules established in workplaces across the province to help keep workers and shoppers safe.

We reacted quickly to devastating COVID-19 outbreaks in non-unionized industrial food plants, calling on the federal government to create a national paid sick-leave program so that no worker has to choose between their health and a paycheque. BC Premier John Horgan spoke out in support of this movement, generating the momentum that led to a nation-wide ten-day paid sick leave program.

June-September: A New Normal

As the pandemic wore on, we continued to fight for our members and carry on the ordinary business of the union in new ways. When grocery retailers ended pandemic premiums we fought back – launching digital campaigns and direct advocacy to pressure the employers to relent. This campaign continues to this day, as we fight for these frontline workers to receive the pay recognition they deserve.

Pushing the boundaries on digital advocacy, engagement, and organizing continued to define our work during this period. In a historic first, we welcomed new units to UFCW 1518 at Cartems Donuts and Point Blank Creative, both of whom voted to join the union in fully-digital union certifications. We launched a month-long education program entirely online, creating a digital education platform and holding classes with hundreds of members over Zoom.

We stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Indigenous organizations calling for an end to systemic racism in policing and other Canadian institutions. We celebrated pride by partnering with Vancouver Pride on anti-racism workshops and sent thousands of union pride T-shirts across the province. We held the first-ever digital Human Rights Week in August featuring three mini-conferences on Decolonizing the Union and Indigenous Rights, Black Lives Matter, and Systemic Racism and Migrant Workers Rights. The conferences explored ways that members can promote human rights and wrapped up with a keynote speech from Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union Raj Chouhan.

The summer saw a busy program of digital activism. However, we also spent considerable time at the bargaining “table” (over Zoom). We pushed the issue of pandemic pay with Save-On-Foods, demanding the reinstatement of the pay and working to bring all of these members closer to a lasting living wage. We held virtual arbitration meetings with Sobeys and won a big ruling in our favour. This ruling eventually allowed 13 stores to come off Appendix B this year, with more to come in the new year. Members at Lifestyle Market also ratified their first-ever contract, winning huge improvements in wages, vacation, and health benefits. These workers also earned retroactive pandemic pay for their incredible work during the first wave of COVID-19.

Autumn and the Second Wave

Many staff had returned to the office as we implemented new safety protocols over the summer when a devastating fire near our office in New Westminster forced us to evacuate. Shortly after, a provincial election was called for October 24, sending us into overtime as we found ways to engage our members on the importance of political action and voting. One of our own, Union Representative Keith Murdoch, ran for a seat in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky. Our efforts paid off as BC elected a strong majority BC NDP government to a second term, setting up stable leadership as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the election was underway, we held another round of union courses with our October education month. Once again, hundreds of members joined us over Zoom for new member orientations, fundamentals and advanced classes in stewarding, health and safety, political organizing, and other important subjects.

Unfortunately, after months of negotiations in the Save-On-Foods 2020 reopener, the employer withdrew their last position in late October, leading to an impasse in negotiations. We had no option but to proceed to Final Offer Arbitration, which will happen in April 2021.

As COVID-19 cases began growing at an alarming rate, we launched mandatory mask campaigns for our members in grocery, retail, and health care. We surveyed the members about their health and safety experiences at work during the pandemic, discovering that over 90% of polled workers felt unsafe at work at least once a week. On November 19, Dr. Bonnie Henry responded to this pressure and issued an order requiring anyone entering a grocery or retail store to wear a mask. We continue to advocate for mandatory mask policies for anyone coming into contact with in-home care workers on behalf of our members in Community Health and Social Services.

Finally, we were thrilled when workers at Matchstick Coffee joined our union in November. We were also happy to complete negotiations at VegPro and Ucluelet Co-op, where workers ratified their new contracts.

Looking forward to 2021

As we reflect on the past year, we feel a multitude of emotions. Grief and anger for those who lost their lives to this terrible pandemic, especially for those who came into contact with the disease at work. Overwhelming pride of our membership, who the world now recognizes as essential workers and who accomplished so much. Hope for the future, as our union has shown the incredible power and solidarity that we need to fight for fairness in the next year and beyond.

We hope that you are celebrating the season safely with your loved ones and we hope that you are well and taking care of yourself – don’t forget that there are many supports available to you from your union. Together, we have emerged stronger from a difficult year, and have much to look forward to in 2021.

Happy holidays!

In solidarity,

Kim Novak
President, UFCW 1518
Patrick Johnson
Secretary-Treasurer, UFCW 1518