Feeding Family Bonds?

What it really means to be “Canada’s Family Grocery Store”

On June 6, as part of its new marketing strategy, Sobeys launched a 30-second commercial on primetime TV. It’s the first full-length TV commercial featuring the company’s new tagline, Canada’s Family Grocery Store. Earlier that day, the company announced to employees that this is the introduction of “our new banner promise for our Sobeys stores, we feed family bonds.”

The commercial was well-produced, and coming into the summer months, it shows a man and his grandson, fishing together on a family vacation. The anchor of the family’s vacation is a bustling Sobeys store, where the pair buy a fish to replace the one that got away. Among their happy moments together, there is the scene of an evening family meal where a setting sun provides a comforting and nostalgic glow. The ad depicts a world of privilege and leisure time – time together.

It’s good to imagine a world where every Safeway employee could enjoy such a privilege. Unfortunately, our imaginations are often too far from the reality in front of us.

Whose family matters most?

Family bonds are about people looking out for each other and fulfilling each other’s needs. Families are often held together by feelings of solidarity and togetherness. Of course, a Good Grocery store is a place that can help people build that. People need nourishment, both in terms of the food they eat as well as the social connection that comes with living and working in a community. They also need to be respected and treated as a part of something.

The marketing world is a place where people imagine all kinds of fanciful ideas. In general, people like and respond to these ideas. But marketing is also really about selling us something. Sobeys wants to sell us the idea that they feed family bonds.

But we live in the real world. Putting our imaginations aside, we have to wonder, whose family matters most to Sobeys? When the company says “We feed family bonds,” whose family do they mean?

Maybe we’re making much of nothing… but we don’t think so

Don’t most companies want to be everything to everyone, no matter what their real focus is, or what they really value? Perhaps. But shouldn’t actions speak louder than words?

We’re in negotiations with Sobeys for new union contracts for all Alberta Safeway employees.

The company’s proposals emphasize nurturing one thing: Sobeys’ bottom line profits. They want some serious economic takeaways from Safeway employees. Very recently, the company has, abruptly and without meaningful explanation or transparency, closed a store in Calgary.

With the announcement of six FreshCo conversions of Safeway stores in BC earlier this week, where hundreds of Canadian families will be grappling with their future as grocery store workers and income providers, it’s hard not to be cynical about Sobeys’ claim to be feeding family bonds.

Then along comes this commercial, where in spite of assurances that Sobeys is committed to investing in Safeway, an important marketing effort features only the Sobeys brand, not Safeway. Again, actions speak louder than words.

Maybe we’re wrong… but we don’t think so

While we may not have reached the stage of negotiations where we’re talking about wages or money, maybe Sobeys will surprise us by agreeing to some of our proposals that would really feed the family bonds of their Alberta Safeway employees.

Here are just some things we’re trying to achieve in negotiations that could make a real difference for the families of Safeway employees:

  • Families need fair wages and benefits. Safeway employees deserve meaningful wage increases and better health benefits as recognition for saving the business after the company’s botched Safeway takeover.
  • Families need security. The company should agree to a clause in the contract guaranteeing employees won’t be fired without “just cause.”
  • A childcare subsidy to help families deal with the company’s scheduling demands.
  • Better and more predictable scheduling to support the family way of life. Employees are entitled to be given the opportunity to balance work and family.
  • More scheduled hours so that people can work one job, not several, and so that tasks can be completed during a shift. When you work more than one job, how can you see your family?
  • Understanding peoples’ life circumstances. Not viewing employees trying to support a family by working in another grocery store as having a “conflict of interest.”
  • A safer workplace with improved security for stores. Family members should return safely from work.

These are the kinds of things that could feed the family bonds of Safeway employees, so they might thrive like the family in the Sobeys commercial.

It’s just spin

They could prove us wrong. And we hope they do. Perhaps Sobeys’ nurturing perspective will be revealed when we talk about putting food on the tables of our members and their families. After all, your families matter just as much as the billionaire Sobey family.

Incidentally, just to be sure Canadians are offered a spin-free workers’ perspective on what it really means to be Canada’s Family Grocery Store, we’ll be sharing our take on CanadasFamilyGroceryStore.ca.

People should know who feeds who. You make or break Sobeys’ business success. You deserve the bread, not the crumbs.

We’ll be in bargaining again with Sobeys in Edmonton from June 18-21. Our meetings are open to any Safeway union members who wish to attend on their days off. We only ask that you please let us know in advance.

In Solidarity,

Tom Hesse
Chief Union Negotiator

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