What You Need To Know About A Strike Vote

After more than a year of face-to-face negotiations with Superstore, the Company continues to offer little in the way of a fair deal for its hard-working Superstore employees in Alberta. In fact, the Company is still seeking concessions that would worsen things for Alberta Superstore union members.

Check out our website for an extensive listing of updates on our bargaining so far. 

TELEPHONE TOWN HALLS 

Over the weekend, you should have received a phone call about three telephone town halls your union is hosting to give Superstore union members the information they need in order to make an informed decision in the strike vote.  

We will have members of your Bargaining Committee on the calls to give you updates about bargaining. We will also be taking live questions from Superstore union members on the calls!  

The telephone town halls are taking place on the following days and times: 

  • September 7 (tonight) at 7 PM 
  • September 8 (Wednesday) at 3 PM 
  • September 9 (Thursday) at 7 PM 

All you need to do in order to join one of those calls is answer our phone call immediately prior to the start times of each town hall. If you miss our phone call, you can still listen to and ask questions on the town halls online at https://gounion.ca/tth

ZOOM MEETINGS 

Your union will also be holding a series of online Zoom meetings to give Superstore union members who are not able to participate in our telephone town halls the information they need in order to make informed decisions about the upcoming strike votes.  

These meetings are specifically designed for members of the night crew due to regulations around when we can and cannot host telephone town halls.

The Zoom meetings are easy to join and participate in. Click here for a step-by-step explanation of how to join a Zoom meeting. 

The Zoom meetings will be taking place: 

  • September 7 at 9 PM 
  • September 8 at 9 PM   

All Superstore members are welcome to join and participate in the Zoom meetings. 

Click here to join the September 7 meeting at 9:00 PM. 

Click here to join the September 8 meeting at 9:00 PM. 

It’s time to take a stand and send Superstore a clear message about improving their offer to you with a strong and successful strike vote!

Below is some key information about strikes, picketing, and picket pay specifically for Alberta Superstore employees. If you have any questions about this information, please reach out to your Union Labour Relations Officer at 1.800.252.7975 or ufcw@ufcw401.ab.ca. 

WHAT IS A STRIKE? 

Strikes usually come about as part of a legally protected process called “collective bargaining.” This is where a group of workers, represented by a union, negotiate with an employer about their terms and conditions of employment (i.e. wages, benefits, hours, etc.), all of which are set out in a “collective agreement,” sometimes called a “union contract.” 

A strike is a step in the negotiations process whereby workers exercise their legal right to stop showing up for work until their employer takes their issues and concerns seriously.  

Strikes and strike votes are also ways to show workers’ resolve, strength, and unity at the bargaining table. They are often a last resort, after conversations between the union and company at the bargaining table have reached an impasse. While 95% of union contracts are resolved without a strike, sometimes such actions are necessary in order to achieve our bargaining goals. In Alberta, union members can only vote to strike after a mediator has been involved in the process. 

In a unionized workplace, it is your legal right to strike, and you cannot be penalized by your employer for participating in a lawful strike or picket line. When a strike is over, you have the right to return to your job. 

WHAT IS PICKETING? 

Lawful picket line activity can involve many things. Among them, you have the right to stand in front of your workplace and other places connected to your employer’s business (e.g. non-union Loblaws stores). You can engage with customers of the business and encourage them to support you by not shopping at stores operated by your employer until you get a fair contract. It can take some courage to picket, but it’s your right. 

You have the right to carry a sign and “demonstrate” to get your message out to the public. You have the right to talk to your family, friends, and neighbours about supporting you. The public, customers, and the union community can boycott your employer’s business until a deal is reached. You have the right to tell the public about what it’s like doing the work you do and why you should be better appreciated by the company you work for. 

Picketing is not all doom and gloom. Picket lines can and should be fun. Most importantly, you will find such activities build support and solidarity among co-workers for years afterwards. Leaders and friendships emerge. We find common cause, get to know each other better, and learn to stand together. Strikes can often build a stronger union. 

CAN THE COMPANY LOCK US OUT? 

While unionized workers have the option of a strike to achieve their bargaining goals, employers have a similar tool: a lockout. Normally, this involves the employer stopping employees from working by shutting down the business until employees accept the company’s demands. This is often seen as a bully tactic used to pressure employees to accept concessions or takeaways.  

A strike vote can sometimes be viewed as a “self-defence” against a lockout. A strong strike vote can deter any appetite the company has for a lockout because they become aware of the resolve and unity of employees to achieve their bargaining objectives. 

WHY STRIKE? 

Just the act of taking a strike vote can make employers think twice about ignoring the concerns of employees. Just knowing you are willing to walk out can remind an employer of the pivotal role workers play in the success of any business. There is no business without the work you do.

If we can’t reach a fair contract, even with the assistance of a government-appointed mediator, we will take the decision to strike back to you. This is done through a secret ballot vote and is a process regulated by the Alberta Labour Relations Board. A strike vote must pass by a majority of those who vote.  

Prior to any vote, we will have union meetings (with consideration for physical distancing) to explain the issues in dispute. It is imperative that everyone affected participate in these meetings and votes.  

Remember, a successful strike vote does not necessarily lead to strike action.  

A strong strike vote is aimed at getting the Company back to the table to improve their offer to you. After a successful strike vote, Superstore’s final offer will be presented to Superstore union members to either accept or reject and commence strike action. The choice about whether we strike or not is always yours.  

But we must prepare for the worst. An actual strike is a real possibility and will be a substantial undertaking with risks and work that we will have to address. 

STRIKE PAY AND BENEFITS 

A strike involves sacrifice. It’s not just about picketing. There are often financial difficulties as well.  

Generally, it is our goal to offer a strike benefit that is close to what you are taking home while at work. It shouldn’t be more than that amount, but it should be close. The bottom line is: we want to support our members if they have decided they want to stand up.  

When it became clear that Superstore was not moving on its major concessions in bargaining, we started preparing for the possibility of a strike with Superstore. In October 2019, we conducted a Strike Pay Needs Assessment for Local 401 members.

We also established a Strike Pay Committee comprised of everyday union members who would consider the needs and put together a strike pay system that they felt was both fair and feasible. That Committee met over a number of months and developed a recommendation on what picket pay for UFCW Local 401 members should be.  

What is picket pay? 

It’s important to remember that picket pay is not a wage, nor is it taxable. What you get is what you take home.  

The purpose of picket pay is to assist you in replacing your income as much as possible while you take your stand. If it is not enough, often union members find other jobs to help supplement what they receive from picketing.  

Do I have to pay any of this back? What about union dues? 

No! You will never have to pay back any of the strike pay, and you will not have to pay union dues while on strike or while locked out. 

What about special situations? 

A strike can be a scary thing, but your Union Labour Relations Officers are here to discuss, confidentially, any concerns you may have. We want to make sure you understand your rights, and we’ll make all reasonable efforts to help you out.  

Financial problems that came about before a strike are not covered, but our view is that no union member should lose their home, be unable to pay their rent, or suffer any undue hardship as a direct result of a labour dispute. 

What about my benefits? 

We recommend that you stock up on any prescription drugs and have dental work done prior to the start of the strike. We are currently assessing our ability to assist Superstore union members with benefits during a strike should you actually decide to go on strike.

PREPARING YOUR FINANCES 

While a positive strike vote doesn’t mean there will be a strike, it is wise to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Planning for a strike or a lockout will ensure you’re not scrambling at the last minute to make arrangements. 

The picket pay we provide as a union far exceeds that of most other unions, but maybe it’s not enough to keep things going. It’s good to prepare now. 

Things you can do to prepare: 

Start saving money now. You’ll get picket pay if you picket, but it may not be exactly what you would normally earn. You’ll be happier if you’ve saved a little to offset the difference. 

Don’t make any major purchases – if at all possible – until the threat of a strike or lockout has passed. 

If you must make a large purchase, try to find ways of prolonging payment (i.e. financing) until after a strike or lockout is settled. 

Contact your bank and creditors in advance to let them know you may be going on strike. Most will be happy to accommodate you by making arrangements for lower payments or interest-only payments in the event a strike or lockout occurs.

Most businesses and banks know that you will not be on strike forever. Remember your strength as a consumer! They don’t want to lose your business and will often do whatever it takes to keep it, just as long as you are upfront with them about what is happening.  

Never ignore a creditor, and you will be fine. Thousands of UFCW members have walked picket lines across North America and not one has lost their home as a result of a strike or lockout. 

If you need assistance dealing with creditors, we can help. We are here to help you take a stand for yourself.  

NEVER CROSS A PICKET LINE 

A strong picket line is critical for a strike to be successful for workers. A decision to strike is also a democratic decision that should be supported and not betrayed.  

That’s why, as a union, we put our resources towards supporting each other to stand together and stand strong when we need to.  

But we all have different situations and sometimes different perspectives about things. Some may want to picket 50 hours per week. Some only 20 hours per week. Some may not be willing or able to picket on a regular basis. Some may not picket at all for whatever reason. That’s ok!  

You can still support your co-workers who will picket by doing any of the following: 

  • You can stay at home until the dispute is over; 
  • You can get another job until the dispute over; 
  • You can get another job AND picket when it’s convenient for you until the dispute is over. 

There are other options, too. Let’s talk about your situation to see if we can work together towards an accommodation that respects and helps our collective bargaining objectives. 

ONE THING IS FOR SURE, THOUGH… YOU DO NOT NEED TO CROSS A PICKET LINE TO MEET FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS. 

Never cross a picket line, especially your own. A “scab” is a person who either: 

  • unethically works at a workplace despite an ongoing strike or lockout; 
  • crosses a picket line; or 
  • steals the job responsibilities of a striking or locked out worker. 

The stigma of being a scab often follows people around even at other jobs, and scabs are susceptible to fines and other penalties. Crossing a picket line violates union rules, and those who do so could face serious repercussions. 

Having said that, this is YOUR union and YOUR picket line. YOU are key to its success. By taking a stand and sending Superstore a strong message with a successful strike vote, we can force the Company back to the table to improve their offer to you!