More than 200 Saskatoon Co-op workers cross picket line with strike in 4th month

Saskatoon Co-op's CEO said 204 unionized workers have crossed the picket line, as a strike enters its fourth month. Grant Wicks said managers will soon re-open 'almost every' store.

'We're seeing that number increasing steadily,' says Co-op CEO Grant Wicks

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1400 wave as a vehicle honks at their picket line at the Saskatoon Co-op grocery store on Wellman Crescent in Stonebridge. The strike is now in its fourth month. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

With a strike at Saskatoon Co-op stores now into its fourth month, the retailer's chief executive officer said more than two hundred union members have now crossed the picket lines.

"For me that indicates that some of the picketers at least are frustrated with the lack of progress and want to return to work," said Grant Wicks, Saskatoon Co-op's CEO.

At issue is Saskatoon Co-op's proposed wage structure, which would see new hires making less money than existing employees doing the same work.

Union negotiators said Co-op managers have refused to bargain several times over the past month.

"They won't sit down with us unless it's on their terms," said Rod Gillies, lead negotiator for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1400. 

'They say that they're willing to negotiate, but it doesn't appear to be that way at all,' said Rod Gillies, lead negotiator for UFCW Local 1400. (CBC/Chanss Lagaden)

"We have loyal Co-op employees who are walking the line for hours every single day in Saskatchewan winter," Gillies said. "This is not just uncomfortable. This is dangerous."

Gillies said the strike has gone on "too long," and Co-op members want it resolved.

"We have put together on numerous occasions different versions of a second tier that address all their concerns about sustainability, and they've rejected all of them, and their position hasn't changed," Gillies said.

Both sides worked with a provincially-appointed conciliator before the strike.

Co-op's CEO said he sees no benefit in taking the dispute to binding arbitration.

'We're not looking to dial back benefits for our people,' said Saskatoon Co-op CEO Grant Wicks. 'Our offers to the union have included lower pay rates but the benefits have been untouched.' (Saskatoon Co-op)

Wicks said he's open to "genuine" negotiations with the union, and estimated between 500 and 600 people are currently working for Saskatoon Co-op.

Wicks said that includes between 200 and 300 replacement workers, a number Wicks said "increases every day."

"Some of them are new Canadians, but they've all been recruited locally," he said, noting that should be enough to open Co-op's new liquor store on 8th Street East by mid-month. 

"When the strike started we just didn't have the resources to keep everything open," said Wicks.

"As we've gathered strength with our employees returning to work, along with our management and out-of-scope personnel and replacement workers, we've been able to reopen just about every location," he said.

The union is urging Co-op members to shop elsewhere during the strike.