Superstore facing strike

Employees at the Real Canadian Superstore in Red Deer could be checking out next month, after voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

Employees at the Real Canadian Superstore in Red Deer could be checking out next month, after voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

The approximately 300 workers at the Loblaw Companies Ltd. store, including the Real Canadian Liquorstore, are part of a bargaining unit that also encompasses Superstore employees in Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat, Lloydminster and Camrose. Strike votes conducted over the past several days resulted in 93 per cent of those who cast ballots supporting a walkout.

Christine McMeckan, a communication representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said the tallies from individual communities could not be disclosed.

But she said they ranged from 87 to 98 per cent in favour of strike action.

Last week, staff at the Calgary-and-area and Edmonton-and-area Superstores, which represent two other UFCW bargaining units, each voted to strike by a margin of 97 per cent.

There are about 8,500 Superstore employees in the province.

“Within the next month, you could very well see picket lines going up across Alberta,” said McMeckan.

Although a strike or lockout could now occur with 72 hours notice, further negotiations are scheduled over the next few weeks, she said.

“It could happen as early as mid-September, but our focus is always in getting back to the bargaining table and trying to conclude a contract.”

Julija Hunter, vice-president of public relations with Loblaw, said in an email to the Advocate that her company is also committed to reaching a deal through negotiations.

McMeckan, however, said she’s not optimistic.

“They (Loblaw) have shown us nothing that says that they’re willing to conclude a contract with workers, that they’re willing to address their concerns.”

Those concerns include a reduction in hours over recent years, which McMeckan said has made it difficult for Superstore workers to perform their jobs.

“Loblaw is trying to basically cut costs at the expense of the workers, and expects them to do the exact same amount of work.”

The consequences could be reduced customer satisfaction and even safety, she said.

“If they’re buying outdated baby food off the shelf, they’re not likely to come back to Superstore, and that affects the workers’ ability to have sustainable employment.”

McMeckan said Loblaw is also pushing for financial rollbacks and a two-tier wage system under which new hires would receive less money than existing staff.

Hunter declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations, explaining that Loblaw’s commitment to bargaining in good faith necessitates confidentiality.

But she said the company must balance its business needs against the needs of its employees.

McKeckan said the Superstore employees in Alberta have been without a contract since last August. Negotiations for a new one began in January.

If there is a strike, it could be provincewide or limited to specific stores, she said. And with Loblaw workers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba also negotiating new contracts, there is the potential for an even broader work stoppage.

hrichards@www.reddeeradvocate.com

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