WINNIPEG — Workers at Canada Safeway stores in Manitoba have voted nearly 100 per cent in favour of a strike to back contract demands.
Around 3,000 employees of the giant food chain gathered Sunday in Winnipeg, Brandon, Dauphin, Neepawa, Steinbach and Thompson to cast ballots to give their union negotiators a strike mandate.
The staff are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832.
Local president Jeff Traeger told the Sun that all Brandon members who cast a ballot voted in favour of a strike.
“There were only a very, very small number of people that voted against giving a strike mandate to the committee and none of those were in Brandon,” Traeger said. “What surprised us provincewide was the turnout.
“This was one of the largest turnouts certainly in Winnipeg and in Brandon for a strike vote for a very long time.”
Traeger said the sale of Canada Safeway to East Coast-based Sobeys Inc. in November has left employees seeking answers about the company’s future.
“We have lots of people who have made a career out of working at Safeway who have been there 25, 30, 35 years and all of a sudden to find out they work for a different company. There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said.
Sobeys recently announced deals to sell 30 stores in Western Canada as a requirement under an agreement with the Competition Bureau in connection with its Safeway acquisition.
The UFCW Local 832 contract expires March 15, but more negotiations are scheduled before then.
Traeger said starting March 3, they will be bargaining straight through until the contract’s expiration date.
“It’s round-the-clock stuff, so we could be bargaining until two, three in the morning for several days leading up to the actual expiry date,” he said. “We’re hopeful that we can get a recommended settlement that we can bring to our members that they can vote on.”
Ratification and strike vote meetings will then take place across on March 23, he said.
Monetary issues, including wages, pension plans and health premiums, will be the biggest issues brought forward during the bargaining process, Traeger said.
The UFCW also says a key issue is the elimination of a two-tier wage scale.
» The Canadian Press, with files from Lindsey Enns
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 25, 2014