Sobeys and Halifax Pete's Frootique union negotiating first contract
2 sides will meet with a government-appointed conciliator on Monday
Nicholle Savoie has worked at the Pete's Frootique and Fine Foods grocery store in Halifax for four and a half years. But because of rapidly rising costs, they don't shop there.
"I can't afford to shop, for the most part, at the store that I work at, because we are not paid enough to afford to shop there," said Savoie, who is a cheese supervisor.
The union representing workers at the Pete's Frootique location on Dresden Row is negotiating with Sobeys Inc. for higher wages and improved benefits as part of bargaining for the two sides' first contract. Pete's Frootique, which has locations in Halifax and Bedford, was sold to grocery giant Sobeys Inc. in 2015.
"What we're looking for are … a lot of really basic things," Savoie said. Workers at the Halifax store voted to unionize in May 2022, with the labour board certifying the Service Employees' International Union Local 2 as the union representing store employees in March.
Tyson Boyd, a floral clerk and part-time cash supervisor at Pete's Frootique, said there have been four meetings between the two sides so far.
Savoie said both sides are scheduled to meet with a conciliator appointed by the Ministry of Labour on Monday. That impartial third-party will attempt to help the employer and union reach a collective agreement.
Sobeys spokesperson Sarah Dawson responded to an interview request from CBC News with an emailed statement that said, "We continue to be engaged in good faith conversations with the union representing our valued Pete's Frootique teammates and believe we can work toward a positive and mutually beneficial outcome."
Boyd said workers at Pete's Frootique began considering a union just prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and added that a driving factor for some people to discuss unionization was the ending of Sobeys's pandemic "hero pay" program in June 2020. Sobeys reinstated a temporary lockdown bonus program in 2021.
Savoie went on stress leave during the pandemic, and said that was a factor wanting to form a union. "It was a really, really stressful time to be working in a grocery store," they said.
Savoie currently makes minimum wage, which increased in Nova Scotia to $15 an hour in October. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has calculated that a living wage in Halifax for 2023 is $26.50 per hour.
Boyd and Savoie declined to comment on specifics regarding what Sobeys and the union have discussed during contract negotiations. However Savoie said, "They [Sobeys] have yet to come to the table with anything that we would consider to be a fair offer and to be … in line with what workers need to be able to afford to live in an increasingly unaffordable city."