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.