Near-unanimous strike vote steps up pressure in Ontario Loblaw/UFCW retail negotiations

July 12, 2010 at 8:14pm

TORONTO, July 12 /CNW/ – Thousands of workers at Loblaw Companies Ltd. stores across Ontario have voted by over 97 per cent to give their union the authority to call a strike if negotiations fail to produce an acceptable settlement.

UFCW Canada local unions 1977, 1000A, 175 and 633 conducted the secret ballot strike votes at over 50 locations around the province over the past two weeks, from Windsor to Ottawa and dozens of cities in between. Voting finished yesterday evening.

The locals collectively represent nearly 30,000 store-level workers at Loblaws, Zehrs, Real Canadian Superstores, Great Food and Fortinos, all subsidiaries of Weston-controlled Loblaw Companies Limited, Canada’s largest retailer.

Conciliation talks convened by the Ministry of Labour broke off in late June with no progress. A “No Board” report by the Minister put the parties in a legal strike or lockout position as of July 10.

The union says the overwhelming strike vote is an unmistakable signal to Loblaw that its workforce is very angry at the company’s demand for massive wage, benefit and other concessions at a time when Loblaw’s sales and profits are rising and the economy generally is strengthening.

The company’s proposal, which has not changed after three months of bargaining, would cut wages by up to 25 per cent, increase waiting time for benefits eligibility, reduce full-time jobs and impose availability-for-work rules on part-time workers that would make it very difficult for them to hold another part-time job or even, in the case of students, attend school.

Unless Loblaw adopts a more reasonable position, a strike may be inevitable, the union says, pointing out that Loblaw’s own figures show worker productivity is rising in terms of store revenue per hour worked, further evidence that there is no economic justification for the demand for contract concessions.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume on July 19 with the assistance of a Provincial Mediator from the Ministry of Labour.