Safeway Union Members Build Momentum

This update is all about the momentum we’ve been building. We provide you with a report from a special meeting of Safeway union members held at the end of May 2018. We also want to provide you with notice of a special Telephone Town Hall meeting we’ll be hosting exclusively for Safeway union members in the coming weeks.

Building Power and Persuasion
On May 30-31, 2018, over fifty Safeway employee activists attended a special union negotiations training event in preparation for face-to-face bargaining sessions with Sobeys management. The event, called “Power and Persuasion,” was a huge success.

As we’ve described in previous updates, we have developed a unique structure for this round of bargaining. A Bargaining Committee will attend face-to-face meetings with the company. A Bargaining Council will form part of our expansive union communications network and will have a special leadership role, interfacing with both union members in the stores and with the bargaining committee itself.

This unprecedented organizational effort is intended to make sure that every union member is exposed to as much information about bargaining as possible.

These will be very difficult negotiations with Sobeys, and they won’t just happen at the bargaining table. Proposals from management will very likely be concessionary and seek significant takeaways. But union members want not only to survive; they want to thrive in the coming years and to be fairly rewarded for their sacrifices and hard work.

Communication and transparency are keys to building trust and solidarity. Union members will have critical decisions to make, and we want to make sure that those decisions are made based on the best information available.

Why Power and Persuasion?
Members of the Bargaining Committee and Council will hold leadership roles in this set of negotiations. Naturally, our time together emphasized four key components of leadership: communication and transparency; critical thinking and research; solidarity-building; and logistics and organizing.

Good leaders organize other union members, creating bargaining POWER. Good leaders are also very PERSUASIVE. Indeed, we need to convince Sobeys to adopt a positive vision of advancing their business by investing in their staff, changing some of their very negative business practices, and abandoning the anti-union attitude that is creating so much tension, fear, and anxiety in the stores. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The unionized staff of Sobeys want very much to form a cooperative relationship with management that is of mutual benefit to the company and to employees. But does management and the Sobeys family want the same thing? Will they hear our perspectives?

The Expert View
Our event counted on the participation of a number of specialists, who presented on their fields of expertise to participants. The purpose was to assist our activists in understanding the kinds of things we will have to consider in bargaining and how those things translate into bargaining proposals and action in the stores.

We also sought to gain a comprehensive and broad understanding of the retail food industry. With that in mind, we hosted Andrea Elliott, an expert in the field, to address participants and field their questions.

Ms. Elliott is a retail industry expert with more than 20 years of retail executive experience, performing merchandising and marketing reviews, organizational design efforts, store operations and efficiency projects, performance management, and e-commerce strategy. Her clients have been national and global players, including A&P, The Gap, Payless, Michaels, and many more. Interestingly, Ms. Elliott worked with Michael Medline during his tenure at Canadian Tire, prior to Sobeys. She is currently advising and assisting UFCW Local 1518 in their presentations before Special Advisor Vince Ready.

Ms. Elliott met with union negotiators, sharing her insights from the perspective of an industry insider. Then, in a 90-minute presentation, she explored consumer trends and industry dynamics on a local, national, and global scale. She also provided an overview of the state of Sobeys’ business in Canada, with particular emphasis on Western Canada.

To be clear, Ms. Elliott does not necessarily view the world through the eyes of a unionist and does not come from the union world. Yet she agreed with Local 401’s perspective.

She acknowledged, as we and our members have observed and pointed out so clearly, that Sobeys has made and continues to make many mistakes in conducting their business in Western Canada. She agrees with us that a simplistic, panic-driven approach that seeks only to cut labour costs will not save or even preserve their business.

Building Solidarity
Both the Bargaining Committee and Council strongly agreed that our maximum bargaining power is best achieved through what we call “solidarity leadership.” Union members will get the very best deal available if they stand strong and stand by each other.

Of special interest and emphasis to the group was the need to unionize the non-union Sobeys stores in Alberta. There can be no long-term future for unionized Safeway employees and decent terms and conditions of employment if Sobeys is allowed to continue to bleed off business to non-union stores, where wages and benefits are significantly lower and where staff have no recourse for the actions and whims of management.

The conference was loaded with information about the law, facts and figures, and critical analysis. But there was also music and fun, where participants learned about the need to build solidarity and to bond at an intellectual and at an emotional level.

CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO, where conference participants decided to support and stand by each other.

Next Steps

In the weeks ahead, the Bargaining Committee and Council will be reviewing and putting the final touches on the union’s bargaining proposals. The proposals come from the members themselves, and their final edits are also done by the members through the Bargaining Committee and Council described above.

Telephone Town Hall Meeting Coming Soon
When the proposal edits are completed, you will be invited to participate in a special Telephone Town Hall meeting. This format of union member participation and decision making has been very popular with our members across the province. You can simply use your phone to call into the meeting from wherever you are, hear the issues, ask and have your questions answered, and immediately vote on important union issues.

We will be providing you with all the necessary details to facilitate your participation in the Telephone Town Hall, so please ensure your contact information is up to date.


During the Telephone Town Hall, we will be asking you if you want us to push going to the bargaining table for face-to-face negotiations with Sobeys. The reason for the poll is rooted in some conflicting views we’ve been hearing from the stores.

Some have expressed we should get on with bargaining nd push the company to the table to get the face-to-face process moving.

Others, having seen the finalized content of Collective Agreements in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have expressed a preference to continue with a “wait-and-see” approach, where we continue to communicate with customers and build solidarity among union members, who will continue to enjoy the privileges of the current collective agreement without rushing to expose them to negotiations.

Some strongly feel that the bargaining environment, where respected public servants, like teachers and nurses, are taking wage and benefit freezes, is such that there can simply be no sensible motivation to negotiate.

British Columbia Safeway/Sobeys employees have not yet settled their disputes with the company. Others want to see what happens there before seeking bargaining sessions with the company.

We’ll be speaking with you more about these issues in the coming weeks; however, it is important to be reminded that you will ultimately decide the course that these negotiations take.

You will direct your union with respect to whether or not you are ready to send us to the bargaining table.

The MOMENTUM comes from YOU!

In Solidarity,

Tom Hesse
Chief Union Negotiator

April Albrecht, Joe Attwood, and Michael Hughes
Bargaining Team Leads