Loblaw vows no 'improved offer' as Unifor digs in heels on Dominion strike
Company, union trade blunt letters that offer no hint of progress
The union representing the 1,400 Dominion workers on picket lines across Newfoundland is digging in its heels, after receiving a letter from parent company Loblaw stating there's no better deal to be had than the one already rejected.
In a two-page letter, dated Sept. 1, to the workers, Loblaw's Atlantic Canada vice-president Mike Doucette lays out the company's side: competition is fierce, business at Dominions across Newfoundland is in decline, and the tentative agreement reached at the end of July was still on the table.
"You need to know that this strike will not result in an improved offer," Doucette says at the end of the letter.
In a reply the next day, Unifor Local 597's bargaining committee was no less blunt in rejecting Loblaw's stance.
While its letter acknowledged "the business is right now struggling," the union pointed to Loblaw's national profits, the CEO's multimillion-dollar compensation and their own wages, which they said were mostly under $15 an hour.
"Ultimately, when workers feel they've had enough, then they're going to fight back. And that's what we're seeing here, and now Dominion's sharing in the very same pain that the workers have been feeling for many many years," Chris MacDonald, assistant to the national president of Unifor, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
"We find ourselves in a stalemate with the company."
The union has been on strike since Aug. 22, with all 11 Dominion stores in Newfoundland closed since.
Difference of financial opinions
In his letter, Doucette outlines the rejected Loblaw offer, which he says included "fair wage increases" for each of the three years in the agreement, as well as creating additional full-time jobs and security for the existing ones.
But the letter states a $2 wage increase — the same amount temporarily provided to workers at the height of the pandemic — "sets all of us up to fail" as it would "literally put the business at risk." Elsewhere, the letter states that some Newfoundland stores have seen "double-digit declines" in business as pressure continues from chains like Coleman's and Costco.
In a statement to CBC, Loblaw said, "We just want our colleagues to understand the strength of the recommended offer, which includes annual wage increases and more full time jobs."
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During a bargaining process, MacDonald said, the union is usually given financial records to validate company's claims such as those, but that didn't happen this time, with instead Loblaw officials making a short speech.
"They make these claims about profitability, but we haven't seen any proof of that," said MacDonald.
At its national level, Loblaw did report a dip in profits in its second quarter of 2020 compared with the same time frame the year before, although its food retail sector saw a sales growth of 10 per cent. The company also spent about $180 million on temporary pay premiums.
Loblaw reported earnings of $240 million in its first quarter of 2020, an increase of $42 million over the same period last year.
A Canada-wide campaign?
In its letter, Unifor says it's awaiting a phone call from Loblaw. MacDonald said the local is ready to go back to the bargaining table but there is no intention of doing so if the deal doesn't change.
At a certain point, he said, the issue becomes bigger than just the picket lines in one province.
"I don't think that anybody in Newfoundland is happy with what's going on here. The strings are being pulled from Toronto. This is about them not wanting to set a national wage pattern," MacDonald said.
"This is about an inherent problem that Loblaws and other grocers have."
While the two sides appear at a stalemate for now, MacDonald said Unifor will spend its Labour Day weekend reaching out to workers at Loblaw brands across the country.
"We plan to raise this conversation nationally," he said.
With files from The St. John's Morning Show