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.”