#MembersFirst: Major foods bargaining outreach launched

UFCW 1518 launched its bargaining outreach campaign today with a new engagement platform that will enable more members than ever to participate in major foods bargaining. The contracts for more than 17,000 members working at Safeway and Save On Foods reopen in March 2018, midway through a 10 -year agreement.

Using text and email, the engagement platform offers a new way to connect with members and collect granular information about their workplace issues and concerns, as well as their solutions and ideas for improvements. “This is an innovative approach to gathering member input that will allow us to understand more deeply what our members want and need out of this next round of bargaining,” says Kim Novak, Secretary-Treasurer. “The re-opening of the collective agreements is a great opportunity to advance proposals that recognize the wealth of experience possessed by our members.”

Both the employer and the union have the option of serving notice to bargain within six months of the re-opener. “We very much look forward to negotiating substantial improvements to the wages and conditions of work for our members – when the time comes.” That time is not now, Novak explains, despite receiving notice to bargain from Sobeys. “It’s premature to begin negotiations. Before every round of major bargaining with our retail grocery employers we convene a conference for our members, where we formulate the union’s proposals.” After the bargaining conference, which takes place November 19-23 in New Westminster, the union bargaining committee will further refine those proposals. Only then, says Novak, will the union be ready to bargain.

“It’s crucial that we hear from members in order to benefit from their expertise and experience. There are big problems we need to fix. Safeway in particular has experienced a dramatic loss in the BC market share, deterioration in store facilities and appearance, reduction in available hours of work and sky high employee turnover. This is due in no small part to mismanagement by Sobeys,” comments Novak. “Coupled with the centralization of administration, which has ignored the particularities of the province and its regions, the outcome has been disastrous, especially for our members and their customers.”

According to Novak, the re-opening of the collective agreements is an important opportunity to explore ways of once again making Safeway/Sobeys among the province’s leading grocers. To do that, she says the union needs the complete financials from the company. “Given developments since the purchase of Safeway, it’s imperative that we have a full understanding of the economic situation facing Sobeys. Without this information, we won’t be in a position to finalize our proposals, commence bargaining and ultimately negotiate an agreement that works.”

If Sobeys responds in a timely way, says Novak, UFCW 1518 will likely be in a position to begin bargaining by mid-January 2018. As yet, Overwaitea has not served notice to bargain but once initiated, those negotiations will follow a similar timeline based on proposal collection, bargaining conference and financial disclosure.

For Kim Novak’s response to Sobeys’ notice to bargain click here.