Sobeys Pushes FreshCo

So far, for Alberta Safeway employees, FreshCo sounds like yet another rotten idea from Ontario

We met with Sobeys for another series of bargaining meetings this week. When we last met with the company in May, our discussions were punctuated by the announcement of Sobeys’ closure of the Southland Crossing Safeway in Calgary. Still, we pushed the company on that issue as well as our other bargaining issues. Things have been difficult and slow.

You may remember that we invited Sobeys to present to our Bargaining Committee and Council on their FreshCo banner and what its introduction to Alberta might mean for Safeway employees. This presentation happened in Edmonton on June 20, 2019.

For the occasion, Sobeys’ bargaining committee was joined by two Sobeys officials from Ontario: Rob Adams, Sobeys’ Senior Vice President of Strategic Operations (Discount), and Andrew Follwell, Sobeys’ Vice President of Labour Relations and IHM.

The company’s presentation covered a range of topics, including their market share in Western Canada and why the company feels its lack of a “discount” banner in Alberta puts it at a strategic disadvantage compared to other retail grocers. The company said this is a major reason why they are not successful.

We asked for a copy of their presentation. They said they would get back to us.

Sobeys’ Plans for Alberta Safeway Stores

Sobeys officials told us that they have plans for Alberta stores, but that’s about it.

They said they have target numbers of stores slated for conversion or closure, but they won’t tell us how many.

They told us they have target stores slated for conversion or closure, but they won’t tell us which stores.

The presentation was simplistic and short on details. Frankly, the information they provided was not that helpful.

Sobeys won’t share financial information without a gag on us

We’ve asked for financial information as well as their plans for their stores in Alberta. Sobeys has offered to share with your union, including our bargaining committee and council, financial information that they say will show that Alberta Safeway stores are “underperforming.” But they only offer this information with conditions.

In order to see that data, Sobeys says we must sign a confidentiality agreement that would gag us and not allow us to share that information with you. We refused.

They should tell us this information without conditions so that you can make informed decisions about your future.

Still, if the stores aren’t doing well, we are not persuaded that the company has done all it can to turn its business around. Customers are frustrated by constant changes, and shelves are a mess. Yet, the billionaire Sobey family insists on takeaways from its Alberta Safeway employees.

As yet, the company has failed to persuade us on why we should accept FreshCo

The company has been wanting to talk about FreshCo for months. In other provinces, we have heard it was the only thing they wanted to talk about.

Through Sobeys’ presentation and questions asked of the company by your union bargaining committee, we learned what a FreshCo really looks like: a discount store with discount jobs. The company admitted that they knew it was not something we would want to hear.

This morning, the company paraded into our meeting and told us that FreshCo would be coming to Alberta, and if we didn’t accept it, there would be store closures.

We don’t appreciate being threatened. We are prepared to negotiate an overall collective agreement that makes sense for both us and the company. There’s no reason that the company cannot thrive, and there’s no reason why Safeway employees cannot also thrive. This is the future we look for.

Getting Ready for Action

Our bargaining committee and council jumped into action immediately, visiting over a dozen Safeway stores in the Edmonton area and talking about our Good Groceries campaign with customers. We then provided a bargaining update to Safeway employees in the stores.

Our leaflet is below and can be downloaded and shared here.

We have a simple message:

  1. Our bargaining proposals are about providing good grocery stores for Albertans to shop and work at.
  2. Sobeys’ proposals are selfish and represent yet another rotten idea from Ontario that will turn Safeway stores into retail prisons and open the door for only risky, part-time, discount jobs at FreshCo.

A strike vote is coming soon.

It’s going to be time for us to stand up.

In Solidarity,

Tom Hesse
Chief Union Negotiator

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

Your Union Bargaining Committee and Bargaining Council