Important News for Safeway Employees

FreshCo decision angers union

Some considerable time ago, Safeway employees ratified a new union contract by a 90% margin. It was a difficult decision in tough times.

Sobeys had been telling you for months that some stores could be converted to FreshCo’s. We watched as these conversions happened in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. FreshCo has been part of the Western Canadian market for some time.

In many ways, this was an exercise in speculation as there was no date for Alberta store conversions. Consequently, Safeway union members endorsed a “just in case” approach.

In foresight, contract language was bargained by your union as a contingency to soften the blow of any potential conversions. Employees in a converted store could have opportunities for large buyouts, and some could bump into other stores. There could also be opportunities to work in the converted store.

One element was left to an arbitrator to decide. That arbitrator would define what the terms and conditions of employment would be for employees at a converted FreshCo.

That arbitrator’s decision has now been released. It is 85 pages long, and we received it just hours ago.

Union lawyers will be reviewing the decision. And Lead Union Negotiator Chris O’Halloran will be meeting with the Bargaining Committee to review it as well.

A quick glimpse of the decision will generate anger and frustration.

Unfortunately, arbitration in Alberta is a reflection of the political climate. Arbitrators are appointed, trained by, and come from the perspective of the political regime of the day. Even when you agree to an arbitrator, that agreement is from a list of very limited choices.

Labour relations is political. If you have ever wondered why your union sounds political, it is because politics affects your workplace and your day-to-day rights.

Other FreshCo decisions have been disastrous. Decisions were made by an arbitrator named Vince Ready in other provinces. Local 401 elected to avoid that arbitrator in this case because of the negative outcomes that we saw in his decisions.

Nonetheless, as we headed into our Alberta arbitration process, we were very concerned about precedents that had already been set in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and BC. The union contracts introduced in those provinces could never be acceptable to Local 401.

We were forced to experiment with arbitration because we knew we could never agree with these other precedents. Also, our members were not prepared to go on strike regarding what terms and conditions might look like at stores that didn’t even exist yet!

But Alberta arbitrator Mia Norrie has disappointed us, to say the least. Even a preliminary review of her decision reveals that she has very unfairly sided with the powerful Sobeys corporation.

It is too early to reach any final conclusions about the decision. No one will be surprised that FreshCo terms would not be Safeway terms. But as we have said previously, your union is angered that the Company has gone ahead with conversions at all given current circumstances.

Safeway/Sobeys is getting so rich during this pandemic, and employees and customers are deeply rattled by the conversions they are forcing upon us.

A glimpse of the decision leads to a magnification of that anger and frustration.

One would like to believe that any fair-minded arbitrator would have had a hard look at Safeway’s profitability and Sobeys’ theft of pandemic pay as part of coming to any conclusion. Clearly, Mia Norrie has not. We are sick of watching our system hurt working people.

Some might suggest that we should not send these comments out so quickly. Yet, the leadership of our union believes strongly that members should know what we know when we know it.

We call that transparency.

Please review this document and give us your feedback.

Click here to read the arbitrator’s decision


Most of you will likely have no interest in working under these conditions. While better than working at a comparable non-union No Frills store, the arbitrator’s FreshCo agreement does not come anywhere close to providing the superior wages, benefits, and rights that we fought to achieve in the Safeway union contract.

Pandemic Pay Frustration

We are frustrated with Safeway. We are frustrated with Sobeys. We are frustrated about FreshCo. And we are frustrated with the provincial government.

Our members are sick of being called essential heroes as pandemic pay, and other important rights are stripped away from them. Employers are arrogantly ignoring calls for the restoration of pandemic pay premiums, even when lockdowns are announced.

And the provincial government is maddeningly indifferent to the risks you face.

Recently, the City of Seattle introduced a new $4 per hour pandemic pay premium for all grocery workers. We are preparing submissions to the mayors and city councillors of Edmonton and Calgary, asking them to take action on this issue and reintroduce pandemic pay for you.

We will leave no stone unturned and will not take a moment’s rest as we work to demand pandemic pay for you. Approaching municipal officials is novel. But we are not afraid to be creative.

Please join us and contact your city councillors in every municipality across Alberta to echo our request so our voices can be heard loud and clear.

What Do We do Now?

We will be awaiting your feedback. As a member-driven organization, we believe in doing what you tell us to do.

Is there an option to appeal the FreshCo decision in court? Perhaps. Our lawyers will be reviewing this option.

Should we be talking to customers and asking them to reject the FreshCo model until the Company adopts a more ethical path? We could.

Should we ask the Company to return to the bargaining table notwithstanding the arbitrator’s decision? That could be an option.

We look forward to connecting with you. These are such hard times, and there are so many moving parts.

But it is your perspective that must and will drive the approach of our union.