#MembersFirst conference focuses on solutions

About 200 activists, stewards and members from Safeway and Save-On-Foods gathered at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster this month for the #MembersFirst bargaining conference. Indigenous ensemble M’Girl opened the event with an acapella percussive performance that acknowledged traditional Coast Salish territory and drew on their experiences as First Nations women on Turtle Island.

Secretary-Treasurer Kim Novak welcomed members to UFCW 1518’s first bargaining conference in 10 years. She explained the decision to bring members from both major foods employers together: “This will enable us to build solidarity over shared issues, which will help us strategize more effectively.”

President Ivan Limpright thanked conference delegates for participating in the largest, most successful bargaining outreach campaign ever conducted by UFCW 1518. “You are the heart of our union and we rely on you to engage with the issues and build solidarity at your workplaces. Make no mistake: the reopening of our collective agreements is a team effort – and we can’t do it without you.” To date, the union has received almost 8000 bargaining ideas and submissions. Six major bargaining priorities emerged from this data: wages, benefits, scheduling, workplace improvements, opportunity and mobility, and health and safety.

These were the topics of employer-specific focus groups that enabled delegates to examine more fully the issues pertaining to their particular collective agreement. Each each focus group reported back on the recurring issues and problems identified and provided suggestions and solutions for addressing them during contract negotiations. Delegates then passed a motion to accept the focus group recommendations, which will be forwarded to the bargaining committees to be refined into proposals.

Job security and making improvements for all members were the top priority. This included such things as raising the start rate before the minimum wage goes up, faster progression up the wage scale, and overall wage increases for all employees. In terms of benefits, delegates agreed that faster qualification is critical, as are sick days for all employees and improved coverage. “It was very clear that wage and benefit improvements are critically important if both employers want to attract and retain employees,” President Limpright commented.

Delegates identified important priorities for other areas, including scheduling changes that value work-life balance for our members, improving workplace conditions, providing opportunity to move between stores,  enhancing stewards’ rights, and implementing meaningful fines and consequences for employers who don’t follow health and safety regulations, thus endangering members.

President Limpright introduced the elected executive board members who will sit on the bargaining committees for each employer. He also introduced the staff representatives who will help guide negotiations at the bargaining table. In a first for this bargaining conference, delegates elected two members to each committee. The winners for the Safeway election were Brad Johnston and Peter Dombrowski while Jim (Jimbo) Grant and Eric Munroe won for Save-On-Foods.

The #MembersFirst conference ended on a high note, with delegates calling for solidarity. “I’m very encouraged by the unity I’ve seen on display at this conference,” said President Limpright. “Despite differences in region, seniority, job category and employer, delegates came together to fight for the common cause of fairness for all. There was a real feeling of focus, drive, strength and determination to negotiate the best possible contract for our members.”