Alberta Safeway workers vote to strike after COVID-19 “pay for heroes” ends

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According to their union, workers in Safeway, Alberta could go to the picket lines after a majority voted in favor of the strike.In a vote last week, 79 percent of Safeway workers represented by Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union (TUAC) voted for a strike, the union said on Monday.

“This is an environment where employees face a lot of anxiety,” UFCW 401 president Thomas Hesse told CBC News.

Hesse said he was not sure if the strike vote meant the workers were looking for a fight – but he said they were looking for a fair deal. Employees can legally strike with 72 hours notice.

CBC News contacted Sobeys for comment.

Contract negotiations

The contract between Sobeys, owner of the grocery chain, and its 8,000 employees in 75 Safeway stores across the province, expired in 2017.

A government mediator was appointed in February, but after months of negotiations, the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

In March, the grocery chain implemented a wage increase of $ 2 an hour – what Safeway called its “hero pay” program – to support employees facing hazardous work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pay rise was cut in mid-June, shortly before the parent company Empire Company Ltd. announces that its profits increased during the pandemic.

“An additional $ 2 an hour is not a lot of money, but it is recognition. There really is no moral in it, you sort of went from heroes to zeros very quickly, “said Hesse. “And although the pandemic is not yet at a crisis level, there is still a threat, there is always a risk, and everyone knows it. ”

Ten Safeway stores and one Safeway gas station have received COVID-19 alerts and diagnostics in the province, said Hesse.

Profit rose 43% to $ 181 million in the company’s fourth quarter, which ended in May.

Earlier this month, the Loblaws and Metro grocery chains, as well as Walmart, also stopped paying workers $ 2 an hour extra wages, which they too had put in place. at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employee concerns

Hesse said money isn’t the only problem on the table.

He said workers need a new occupational health and safety process and their benefits are secure.

Recent studies have also shown that handling thermal paper receipts can put cashiers at higher risk for cancer, which worries workers.

UFCW Local 401 executive director Chris O’Halloran said participation in the strike vote was one of the highest he had seen in recent years.

“This is a testament not only to employee and public disgust for the kind of greed we have seen from leading Canadian grocers, but also to the massive commitment of our union members and transparency initiatives “He said in a statement posted on the union’s website.

The union has said it will ask Sobeys to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible to negotiate an agreement.

Hesse said that if the employees were angry, he wouldn’t say they were eager to strike.

“I think they really voted with all their heart. I think they meant to Sobeys, hey, negotiate fairly, “he said.

“Nobody wants to go on strike, and we hope we don’t have to. We just told Sobeys that we are strong and that we will fight if we are pushed, ”said the statement posted on the union’s website. .

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