Manitoba Safeway workers ratify new collective agreement with Sobeys
Threat of strike was enough to get workers' needs met at bargaining table: union president
Safeway workers in Manitoba have voted strongly in favour of a new five-year collective agreement, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 832 union said in a news release Friday.
Ratification of the new agreement comes after Safeway employees across Manitoba voted 98 per cent in favour of giving their bargaining committee a strike mandate last February.
UFCW Local 832 represents over 1,700 workers at all 18 Safeway locations in Winnipeg, Brandon, Dauphin, Selkirk, Neepawa and Thompson. Bargaining began between Sobeys Capital Incorporated and UFCW Local 832 on Dec. 2, and took 25 days to reach an agreement.
Jeff Traeger, president of UFCW Local 832, told CBC News that the introduction of a strike mandate was done to put pressure on Sobeys Capital Inc. He said the threat of a strike was enough to get workers' needs met at the bargaining table.
"Once we did bring in the strike mandate, then all of a sudden, lo and behold, [Sobeys] started taking us more seriously," said Traeger. "Things moved quickly at the bargaining table and we were able to reach an agreement on March 17 that was ratified today."
Under the new agreement, Safeway workers in Manitoba will become the highest paid unionized retail workers in the province and receive predictable wage increases over the next five years.
The agreement will provide improved health and pension benefits. It also addresses shared concerns among workers regarding the scheduling of cashiers, as well as the right to refuse the use of unsanitary reusable bags from customers.
Safeway workers in Manitoba are "very happy" with the new deal, said Traeger, especially after facing increased risks due to COVID-19 over the last two years.
"I think society has realized that grocery store workers play an important part in our life," Traeger said. Workers expressed concerns during bargaining about their safety in the workplace and the ongoing supply of personal protective equipment, he said.
An agreement was also made to create a separate bargaining unit for Manitoba's six FreshCo stores, so that union members from that grocery store chain could voice their concerns without being overshadowed by the larger group of Safeway members.
Traeger said the ratification of the agreement could not have happened without Safeway workers in Manitoba who voted overwhelmingly in favour of the strike mandate.
In an email to CBC News, Sobeys Capital said they are pleased to hear about the ratification of the collective agreement.
Sobeys said the process was collaborative, and the agreement, which extends to 2027, reflects a "good balance of the needs of our teammates and the long-term health of our business in Manitoba."