COVID-19 and Negotiations: Your Voice Continues to be Heard

Last night’s telephone town hall for UFCW 401 retail workers was well attended and was met with many insightful questions and comments from listeners. The call was hosted by UFCW 401 Secretary-Treasurer, Richelle Stewart, and guests included President, Thomas Hesse, and Executive Director, Chris O’Halloran.

Two main topics were addressed: upcoming and ongoing retail negotiations and COVID-19.

We asked your opinions on several areas with poll questions. And of course, we opened up the phones for you to ask questions.

Breakdown of who was on the call

Negotiations must proceed and UFCW Local 401 leadership announced that any available technologies, like Microsoft Teams, will be used to ensure we continue fighting for much needed improvements to your union contracts, while following protocols for safe physical distancing.

Safeway: Moving towards mediation

As we move towards mediation with Sobeys next week, union negotiators and committee members will welcome a government-appointed mediator’s assistance in helping bring the parties toward a settlement. President Hesse assured members that the pressure will continue!

“The first thing we’re going to say to the company next week is, ‘you call them heroes out of one side of your mouth, and out of the other side of your mouth you’re still trying to beat up on them,’ asserted Hesse. “They want to take away things from employees, and we’re going to say ‘no’ to that, and we’re going to say that very boldly.”

84% are prepared to fight back

Superstore: Negotiations to begin marked by transparency

Lead negotiator, Chris O’Halloran, talked about similar technologies being used in Superstore negotiations and focused on our ongoing practice of open and transparent bargaining, which is scheduled to begin in May.

“We will make sure we hold Superstore accountable,” assured O’Halloran. “We’ll make sure we get a good deal and a fair deal for you guys with as quick of a process as possible.”

Other retail negotiations

President Hesse also talked about other bargaining; some that is ongoing, and others set to begin. UFCW Local 401 members at Save-On-Foods, various Co-op locations, Banff IGA, and Forest Lawn Sobeys can look forward to regular updates on those negotiations as move forward in spite of COVID-19.

“As we head into negotiations with these major employers… we need to be strong, we need to be courageous and I know our members are so courageous going to work right now, serving the public,” Hesse stated. “Our members are going to be called upon to be courageous as well and to stand up for themselves, stand up to make sure that good grocery stores are there in Alberta communities.”

91% say employers not paying them enough for risks

COVID-19 and your workplace

Retail members listening in to the call were assured that the leadership of UFCW Local 401 is committed to offering members “the comfort of solid, consistent, and quick representation” in spite of COVID-19. This is our union’s first priority.

President Hesse went on to share with listeners details about our union’s process for when a COVID-19 positive case is identified affecting a workplace. Members were reminded of their right to refuse unsafe work, which is protected under occupational health and safety laws and enforced by solid union representation. Hesse warned that employers would face “very aggressive legal action if necessary” should they not cooperate in ensuring the safest possible workplace.

O’Halloran addressed issues of inconsistency in the reaction of employers across the retail industry. He encouraged all members to keep their Union Labour Relations Officer apprised of any problems in their workplace. He also praised the hard-working shop stewards and activists who are on the ground and ensuring compliance with our collective agreements during these difficult and challenging times.

“The best company policy isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if the manager in that workplace isn’t delivering on it,” O’Halloran advised.

74% of people say their employer is not keeping them safe enough

In fielding several questions from members through the one-hour call, UFCW Local 401 retail members were assured that their union is paying close attention to what is happening in their workplaces and that a strong voice for food workers will be heard by employers and by governments.

President Hesse was clear: “we will be bold and speak proudly and directly to the public and customers on behalf of our members.” Local 401 will continue to be a strong voice for working Alberta through COVID-19 and beyond.

At the end of the call, Local 401 retail, liquor store, and gas bar members were sent surveys by email to follow up on some of the key topics discussed. To access the survey, members can get on our email list by updating their contact information. Contact information updates can be done by contacting your Union Labour Relations Officer at 1-800-252-7975 or filling out our online contact form at