Edmonton

Union representing Alberta Safeway workers frustrated over contract talks

The union representing Canada Safeway workers in Alberta says it is consulting with its members about a possible strike vote.

The union says it is consulting with its members about a possible strike vote

Physical distancing is now being enforced by grocery stores like the Crowfoot Crossing Safeway with the addition of lines marking the appropriate distance apart for shoppers. (Elise von Scheel/CBC)

The union representing Canada Safeway workers in Alberta says it is consulting with its members about a possible strike vote.

The contract between Sobeys, which owns the grocery store chain, and its 8,000 workers at 75 Safeway stores in the province expired in 2017. A union official says little progress has been made in talks despite the addition of a government-appointed mediator in February.

Michael Hughes, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, says the stalemate is hard to take, since the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a financial boom for grocery stores where workers have been designated as essential.

"The grocery industry has been doing very, very well through the crisis. Their employees have been expected to come to work ... and we're hearing poverty at the table," Hughes said.

"One week they're heroes; the next week they're zeroes."

The parent company of Sobeys, Empire Company Ltd., is headquartered in Stellarton, N.S., and bought more than 200 Safeway stores in Western Canada in 2013. The company also has more than 50 non-unionized Sobeys stores in Alberta.

Hughes said Sobeys sent out a newsletter to shareholders saying it had recorded a 37 per cent jump in same store sales in the first four weeks of the pandemic lockdown.

Yet, he said, Sobeys is asking for concessions from workers and is converting some stores to the FreshCo brand, which he called a discount retailer with "a discount contract."

The union has set up a page on its website entitled "Preparing for a Strike at Safeway in Alberta" and is doing an online survey of its members about a possible strike vote.

"There's a feeling of real mistrust," he said.

"We're at the bargaining table trying to get a deal and we're still looking at these concessions. People are furious. We're in mediation right now and ... we may be in a situation in the next few weeks to have to take a strike vote."

Sobeys declined an interview but issued an email statement.

"We are committed to our teams in Alberta and are focused on achieving a fair agreement through the collective bargaining process — an agreement that will allow us to build a strong future in Alberta," wrote spokeswoman Zakiah Lalani.

"Our goal is to reach an agreement that allows us to invest in the future of Safeway and introduce our discount grocery brand, FreshCo, to Albertans."

About the Author

Bill Graveland is a Calgary-based reporter for The Canadian Press.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now