Nfld. & Labrador

Amid 2 major strikes, N.L. labour federation wants seat at the table for economic recovery plan

This Labour Day, ferry captains and Dominion workers are both on strike and the federation of labour says workers "refuse to return to the previous, outdated economic mindset of austerity."

Striking Dominion workers say Loblaws Corporation doesn't value them

Robin Ivany says workers are not a 'thorn' in the corportation's side, and deserve a fair wage. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Striking Dominion workers in the province say they feel betrayed by their employer — after working long hours and braving the early days of a pandemic — and the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour says that's just one of the reasons it needs to be a part of an overall economic recovery plan.

The organization has its own ideas, unveiling its priorities for a recovered economy.

"We believe that workers' voices are a critical piece in determining a strong economy in Newfoundland and Labrador, one where no one gets left behind," reads a statement from the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. 

The organization, which represents 70,000 union workers across the province, says the government has a lead role to take, but offers some proposals. 

Among them: more investment in child care and long-term care, a reformed employment insurance system, and an employment strategy that looks at all sectors. 

The group is also demanding "decent, fair and safe work."

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, says 'too many workers fall through the cracks.' (Ted Dillon/ CBC)

One proposed provision is a $15 minimum wage, access to seven paid sick days, and 14 days of emergency paid days for all workers, as the pandemic related to COVID-19 persists. 

"What does economic recovery look like? What is the vision where everybody benefits? Where we don't have that big income gap that we see now, where we don't have that big poverty gap we see now? So what is it we need to do?" federation president Mary Shortall told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Monday. 

Whatever that vision is, the direction is forward, says Shortall, because back is not an option. 

"The union movement unequivocally refuses to return to the previous, outdated economic mindset of austerity, spending cuts and reduced public and social services that result in growing inequality, anemic job creation and low-paying precarious work," reads the plan.

Labour Day, and this year's major labour disruptions

Shortall said this Labour Day is a significant one, with two major strikes happening in the province, affecting the most basic, yet important, industries of food and transportation.

Dominion workers have been off the job since Aug. 22. In addition, the union representing ferry captains has also been on strike since Aug. 25. That group is demanding a raise, among other things, after eight years of off-and-on negotiations. 

Unifor held a virtual strike rally on Monday to support the workers with national president Jerry Dias and other regional directors speaking to encourage the workers who say they feel they've slipped through the cracks.

Robin Ivany, who said he has been a Lowblaws employee for 27 years, acknowledged corporations have to make profits, but not at all costs. 

"We're here for the long haul, whatever it takes," he said. 

"Hopefully the Loblaws Corporation can see that we're not here as a thorn in their side, we're here to help [with] the success of the company … and we just want a fair wage."

In letters sent to striking workers, Loblaws has said its profit margins are too slim to raise wages without also raising food prices.

"You need to know that this strike will not result in an improved offer," reads a letter the company sent to workers last week.

'Smack in the face'

Two other Dominion employees told CBC News from the picket lines they feel betrayed and let down by Loblaws. 

Devon Mercer, who works at the Dominion store at the former site of the Memorial Stadium, is a part-time employee who works full-time hours. 

He said workers continued to press on for customers during Snowmageddon and then when COVID-19 hit — both high-stress situations, with long lines and massive uncertainty. 

"It was kind of a smack in the face. It was like they needed us, they needed us so much, that they gave us all these hours, they hired all these people, they gave us an [extra] $2 an hour," Mercer said referencing the pandemic pay increase. 

Devon Mercer is a part-time employee who works full-time hours at Dominion. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

But, he said, they just took it away, and without a good reason. 

"So right now, it's going to be hard-pressed for people to go back in without that trust earned back," Mercer added. 

'We were there for them'

Raelene Cull, a Loblaws employee for 31 years, is a produce manager at the Stavanger Drive Dominion location. 

She pointed out that grocery stores were high-traffic areas when COVID-19 first ramped up, and still are. 

Cull said the store was shut down for a deep clean after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, but information was scarce. 

Raelene Cull, who has worked for Loblaws for 31 years, says, 'We deserve fair pay and full-time jobs.' (Adam Walsh/CBC)

"It's very nerve-racking when you have to come home to a small child and don't know if you're after picking [COVID-19] up or if you're going to give it to your family," she said.

Cull said she really feels workers gave their all during an unprecedented public health emergency, and thinks that is something Loblaws doesn't seem to register.

"Do they really care about us? We're on strike and they don't think much of us, even though we were there for them, [and] we were there for their customers," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Adam Walsh and The St. John's Morning Show

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