The Safeway negotiating committee’s challenges with the Company continued into our second round of January negotiations from January 19-23. The earlier portions of the week were extraordinarily frustrating as the Company dragged its feet and refused to give the committee any substantial proposals to consider.
Progress was so stifled that Secretary Treasurer and Lead Negotiator Theresa McLaren, Union Negotiator Al Olinek, and committee members began to openly question the Company’s commitment to achieving a Contract in a timely fashion.
On the morning of Wednesday, January 21, Union President Doug O’Halloran attended negotiations and put the situation in stark terms for the Company, noting that Safeway employees are strong union members who are not afraid to fight for what they deserve.
“These are the people who make your business successful,” President O’Halloran noted, “why would you put them through this sort of treatment?”
Members of the committee also had an opportunity to address the Company, speaking about the feelings of neglect that Safeway workers have experienced since the purchase of Canada Safeway by Sobeys Inc.
“Some of the people at this table have been here for a long time,” one committee member said. “We remember when the Company came to us asking for concessions, claiming they were necessary and promising to take care of us when times were good. You broke that promise and we won’t be fooled again. This company owes us.”
The open dialogue with the Company seemed to do some good as negotiations picked up speed at the end of the week. The committee and the Company were able to either withdraw or agree to 24 non-monetary items by week’s end, including a few contentious issues that had been holding up discussions. The progress leaves 53 items outstanding.
Two of those outstanding items are the major concessions the Company is seeking: allowing vendors to stock shelves and removing Department Managers from the union. These concessions will severely impact hours in the stores and adversely affect Safeway members’ quality of life.
On those items, President O’Halloran informed the Company flatly, “You’re not getting those concessions without a strike. Safeway members will hit the streets over these issues.”
While some good progress was made in the last two days of negotiations, the likelihood of a strike vote is even stronger than before. Unfortunately, committee members recognize that it is becoming standard practice for the Company to stall until the union forces their hand with a strong strike vote.
Safeway members need to be ready to show the Company that they mean business and will not give in to concessions that will erode their contract.
Secretary Treasurer McLaren put the Company on notice that the committee expected them to table a full wage package for consideration at the February 9-13 negotiations in Calgary.
Barring very clear progress, the committee will be asking the mediator to “write out” at the February negotiations so that the union can take a strike vote.
For those not familiar with the term “write out”, it means that the union has come to the conclusion that the mediator has not been successful in enabling negotiations to progress. In Alberta, mediators do not have the authority to compel a company like Safeway/Sobeys to do anything.
Asking a mediator to “write out” simply means that the Company remains unwilling to negotiate fairly and that we need the mediator to leave the process so that we can move to the next step of negotiations by taking a strike vote and giving the members an opportunity to have their say.
Having the mediator leave the process does not mean that the union does not want to make a deal – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The union is just trying to get to the point where issues can be brought to a head so that Local 401 members can take control of decisions about their future.
“These negotiations are shaping up in one of two ways,” Secretary Treasurer McLaren said. “Either we’ll spend the first two weeks of March presenting Safeway members with an offer, or we’ll spend them taking a strike vote. Which way we go is up to the Company.”
We will keep Safeway members updated on the state of negotiations as discussions continue, but they should begin preparing for the likelihood of a strike vote in March.
Remember: we can win the contract that Safeway members deserve by bargaining strong together!
In the meantime, if Safeway members have any questions, they should contact their full-time Union Representative.
A short time ago, I was charged with writing an article for the union’s e-news. The difficulty I had was not what to write about but how to write about it. I decided to use this opportunity to let our members know about some of the difficulties that temporary foreign workers (TFWs) face in the workplace.
Imagine arriving in a strange country where you barely know the language and have no knowledge of your rights. Adding to that, you have left your family thousands of miles away. This is how every TFW begins their new job.
The goal of these new workers is to make a better life for themselves and for their families and, hopefully, to bring their families to Canada as soon as the law allows.
The first day of work for a TFW starts like everyone’s in that they meet new people; the difference is that a TFW will meet some co-workers that will treat them like aliens invading their workspace. Many co-workers will think these new workers are here stealing jobs away from their friends and families, or to weaken the union and allow the employer to take away benefits they have fought for.
Next, these new workers get to meet their supervisors. Many of these supervisors are good honest people but some will take advantage of the TFWs. These bad supervisors will think they can treat these workers however they want and get away with it because TFWs have nowhere to go. These supervisors will threaten to send the TFWs back if they go to the union, report an injury or exercise their rights in anyway.
Recently, the government addressed some complaints made by TFWs against a handful of unscrupulous employers. These employers were exploiting the TFWs that they brought in to Canada to work for them with the permission of the government. Abusive employers were found to be under paying TFWs, reducing hours, and even taking money from the TFWs.
The government solution was to take away the abusive employer’s ability to have TFWs and not be allowed to bring in anymore for a period of time. This decision meant that any TFW working for those employers no longer had a job and needed to find an employer that could take them in, or they would be forced to go back to the country they came from.
Everyday we face difficulties in our workplaces but we, as Canadians, know we have the union and that we have rights that the union protects. Consider the Brothers or Sisters beside you at work, if they are a TFW then think about what they have faced and consider using it as an opportunity to make a new friend. TFWs are not here to do anything but make a living and create a life that we, as Canadians, are privileged to enjoy.
A Fresh Start is a Good Thing
No time is ever a good time for a big change. When people consider how to react to change, it’s often considered for both the positive and negative outcomes it could have on our lives.
Sometimes we take the risk and embrace change, while at other times we can allow the status quo or even fear to overrule our need for a fresh start. Either way, it is in our nature to strive for change and a better future.
Recently, UFCW Local 401 embarked on a major change in the form of a route adjustment for its Union Representatives. For those members that have been around for a long time working hard in our units this is not a new development, as route changes have been periodically implemented for many years.
From the union’s perspective, a route change means a fresh set of eyes in the units that we represent. As well as a chance to move people around and get them out of a comfort zone that they may have built up over the past number of years. Understanding this, we see that route changes are both necessary for cross training and for encouraging new perspectives amongst our members.
For Union Representations such as myself, a route change is always a challenge, in much the same way it can be for our members. In truth, I was anxious about the change despite the logistical difficulties of my route. As my previous route was geographically scattered across the city, I often found it a scheduling and organizational nightmare to attend to the various units under my responsibility.
More than a few times I found myself trying to get from the prisons in Royal Oak to the Superstore in Deerfoot Meadows, or from Premier Horticulture in Olds to the Okotoks Safeway all in the same day. Nevertheless, it was still my route that I proudly maintained; a route filled with my members, stewards and friends.
Now, I help union members in Medicine Hat where my route is concentrated and it’s a big (and sometimes scary) change for my family and myself. A route change has meant not only learning an operational system all over again and meeting new people but most frighteningly, building a trusting relationship with a new set of members.
We’ve heard many comments and complaints about the route change. Most of these comments have related to the idea that members do not want to lose their current Representative with whom they have built a strong relationship. Understandably, the bonds that our stewards and members develop with their Representatives are not only special but are built over time often falling into place as a result of a learning opportunity or an injustice at work.
To start again, to yank out the plants and replant the roots, is a big deal- for both the workers and Union Representatives alike. However, it is a change that has to be done, and that will ultimately benefit our union and our membership. Moreover, this change will certainly benefit our new Union Representatives who have just joined our team giving members a fresh face to go along with the fresh start of a route change. All we ask for, and in particular, all I ask for as a Union Representative, is patience. The route change is just as drastic for us as it is may be for you.
I, for one, am choosing to see this as a positive change where I am looking at the fine city of Medicine Hat as a great opportunity to learn new stores, meet new people and navigate a new city all with a clean slate with which to build even more relationships than those I am leaving behind.
The same opportunity lies with you. You get to meet someone new, mold your Representative to the way you like things done and have a fresh set of eyes as well as a new bank of experience to learn from and a maybe even make a new friend in the process.
Change can be a really good thing. If things are worked on a bit harder, nurtured a bit more carefully and new approaches to things are tested then we have a great opportunity to make our union even stronger to benefit our membership, our families, and our communities.