Qayqayt Chief offers traditional welcome at union meeting

For Chief Rhonda Larrabee, fairness was at the heart of her search for her heritage.

Only discovering her First Nations roots when she was 24, Larrabee became the first documented member of the Qayqayt  (Ka-kite) First Nation since 1951, when it had been placed on the Inactive General List of Reserves. Today Larrabee is Chief of the Qayqayt, whose traditional territory is in New Westminster. Under her leadership, the Qayqayt have reclaimed their fishing rights and are seeking the re-establishment of a permanent reserve.

Chief Larrabee shared some of her story when she offered a traditional welcome to UFCW 1518’s quarterly union meeting on June 5 in New Westminster. “I was a unionized worker as a government employee, so I understand how unions fight for fairness,” she told about 75 members. “Everyone deserves a living wage, benefits and job security.” First Nations across Canada are seeking fairness through the reconciliation process, and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. According to Larrabee, learning about the history and culture of First Nations people is an important part of that process. “We need your support to preserve the legacy of our ancestors, as well as our future.”

After Chief Larrabee offered her welcome, Executive Assistant Patrick Johnson delivered the President’s Report. Johnson began with the retail food sector, reporting good news at Overwaitea Food Group, where important strides have been made with stores on Quarterly Review. The Save On store in Vernon recovered frozen wages and the Salmon Arm store came off Quarterly Review entirely, with more stores expected to follow. He noted the continued success of union representative Ronda Melbourne, who is working in Save On stores to perform schedule audits and recover lost wages from the employer.

Johnson acknowledged the picture was not so rosy when it comes to Sobeys, noting UFCW 1518’s ongoing concern about the financial state of some Safeway stores due to  mismanagement at the local and national level. “Sobeys has taken a different approach that the former owners when it comes to labour relations and the operation of stores. This has proven detrimental to the long term interests of all of us – and retail sales,” he comments. With bargaining for retail foods beginning this fall, members have an opportunity to identify the issues important to them, and to help shape the union’s strategy. Johnson encouraged members interested in attending the upcoming bargaining conference to speak to their union representative.

In other bargaining news, the new unit at First United Church in the Downtown Eastside ratified their first ever collective agreement in March, achieving a living wage for all members. In April, the only unionized Canadian Tire in British Columbia won big with a solid new contract and a 12.5 percent wage increase. Members working in the warehouse at Grand & Toy, ratified a four-year contract with numerous gains, including a 9.6 percent wage hike. Bargaining continues in the food processing sector and at Shopper Drug Mart.

There were also some important organizing victories. Last May, workers at nine Island Pharmacy stores voted to join UFCW 1518 after a long and challenging organizing drive. The Community Connections in Kelowna, which provides services for those who live with a developmental disability, was brought into the master agreement in March. “CSSEA is an established collective agreement with full benefits and pension, so this was a great triumph for our members” says Johnson.

Johnson announced a new initiative for community health members, which includes a listening exercise and a campaign to raise awareness about the issues faced by home care workers. “UFCW 1518 was the first union to organize home care workers. We understand not only the critical nature of home care, but also the vulnerability of these workers, who often find themselves working alone and facing violent or unsafe conditions,” he states. “We will do what it takes to ensure our community health members are protected and acknowledged as the professionals that they are.” This includes developing a new occupational health and safety training course for community health members, which will run in the fall.

The next union meeting is September 11 at 7pm at the main office, 350 Columbia St., New Westminster. All members welcome!