UFCW leadership pictured in telephone town hall

Local-wide Telephone Town Hall a Big Success!

Support, Action, and Voice

April 2, 2020 – Red Deer, AB – Last night, we hosted our very first Local 401-wide telephone town hall, and for those who missed it, here’s our run down of what happened. Led by UFCW Local 401 Secretary-Treasurer, Richelle Stewart, special guest speakers included President, Thomas Hesse, in-house legal counsel, Mark Wells, and Dr. George Pugh, a psychologist and expert on hand to share his advice on coping through COVID-19. Most important of all were the nearly 4,000 participants, including UFCW Local 401 members from across Alberta and from across the food, hospitality, healthcare, and services industry.

The call outlined many of our union’s efforts in providing support, taking action, and giving voice to UFCW Local 401 members during COVID-19. Throughout the call there were dozens of questions from members, and thousands participated in quick survey polls.

There were so many great questions over the two-hour call, and we wish we could have had time to get through them all. Your questions represented the broad range of concerns being felt by our membership of 32,000. Hearing those concerns from your fellow UFCW members was empowering to everyone involved.

“After listening to the meeting last night,” wrote one member today, “I came away aware that others are feeling the same as me. So now I have these new questions and things I want to deal with.”

In case you missed it, here’s a summary of what was discussed.


President Hesse outlined the setup of a 24/7 union operation. As a union, we are ensuring that our representation and service to members is increased during COVID-19 because this is the time that we are needed most. While we recommend reaching out during regular office hours, if something is urgent, UFCW Local 401 members can call 1.888.GOUNION (1-888-464-6466) for assistance and basic information any time of the day (or night), any day of the week.

Special Guest and psychologist, Dr. George Pugh, offered advice to UFCW Local 401 members on how to maintain good mental during the COVID-19 situation. “During times of stress, you may find yourself shaken by the experiences of work,” said Dr. Pugh. “I understand that many of you are taking risks beyond your job descriptions,” he continued. “See yourselves as leaders in this pandemic.”

Dr. Pugh discussed the need to lean on each other, our families, and our co-workers. Sharing our thoughts and fears helps us to know we are not alone, he advised. He also gave helpful tips and reminders like the importance of healthy eating, staying hydrated, taking up an old hobby you once loved, exercise, and more to assist in managing these stressful times.

In-house legal counsel, Mark Wells, was also on hand to take questions on employment insurance and financial supports, your workplace rights and how important it is to continue pursing those rights in these troubling times.

Complementing the information available to members at gounion.ca/covid-19/support, listeners also found out, for example, that their jobs are now protected by law if they must self-isolate or because they’re caring for a child or dependent adult who is required to self-isolate. Wells encouraged members to reach out to their Union Labour Relations Officers for support on specific situations they may be facing.


President Hesse shared more details about UFCW Local 401’s advocacy efforts with employers and provincial and federal governments. “We are escalating everything we’ve always done,” he assured listeners.

Our demands to employers have covered almost every imaginable topic, all of which we have documented in letters to each employer we deal with. All of these letters (and their responses are available at gounion.ca/covidaction.

“Especially during COVID-19,” noted Secretary-Treasurer Stewart, “we are ensuring that the loudest voice employers hear is the union voice. We’ve been working day and night, speaking with these employers at the highest levels and demanding they do everything they can to help you all during this time.”

President Hesse assured members that we have been, and are continuing to push for bold action on additional financial supports, including premiums, to help compensate members for their hard work and the risks they are taking by going to work during COVID-19. We also continue to fight against the inequities and unfair compensation some employers, like Sobeys, have rolled out.

But our action has also focussed on governments, who need to back up our members, their constituents, during times like these.

“This time reminds us of the importance of government and that we should all care about politics,” said Hesse. “Politics isn’t just about what party you support, or who you might vote for. Helping people in society during difficult times is government’s role, and I’ll yell from the rooftops at any premier, regardless of what their political stripe is, on behalf of working people.”

President Hesse shared with members details of his conversations with Alberta Minister of Labour, Jason Copping, and his office about a wide range of COVID-19-related issues. Hesse outlined our advocacy on workers’ compensation issues; protections for those who wish to stay home out of concern for their safety, particularly those in high risk groups or who live with those in high risk groups; relief for Albertans on credit cards and interest rates; advocating for renters and freezes on evictions; and many other matters.


President Hesse noted the renewed interest in the voices of food and healthcare workers in the media and in the eyes of the public. He directed listeners to gounion.ca/covid-19/voice for a listing of articles in which our leaders and members have appears in local, national, and international media reports. All of this is about ensuring that the voice of workers is heard loud and clear as the world comes to know what we’ve always known: our members perform vital work in providing basic human rights to people, things like food, healthcare, and other key services.

We are continuing to push ahead with negotiations. With many participants wondering about the impact of COVID-19 on union contract negotiations, we discussed how this might look, especially as Safeway bargaining is set to continue and Superstore bargaining is about to kick off.

In one of our polling questions, 86% of respondents told us that negotiations should continue through COVID-19, even if it means using alternative technology. That message was loud and clear.

You’ll keep hearing from your union

Our communications methods have ramped up to keep members informed: we’re texting members; we’re calling hundreds of members every single day; we’re communicating through social media and telephone town halls; and we’re reinventing ourselves in these challenging times marked by “social distancing”.

If you couldn’t make last night’s call, or you couldn’t get your question answered, there will be more telephone town halls in the coming weeks.

We will be having another special telephone town hall next week, Wednesday, April 8, 2020 for retail food grocery store workers, many of whom have questions about COVID-19 and ongoing and upcoming negotiations.

The following week, on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, we will hold another special telephone town hall meeting for all our members who work in all food processing, packaging, and manufacturing workplaces.

“Our members are going to work, showing extraordinary courage bringing food to the tables of Albertans,” said President Hesse during the call. “But our members are also showing courage because they are challenging the powerful in society – their employers, government, corporate interests to do the right thing.”

Your courage is an inspiration to everyone.