The difficulties in retail grocery
Your Union proudly represents 60,000 members across Ontario. The majority of our members work in the retail industry – particularly in the retail grocery industry, including stores like Loblaws, Metro, Food Basics, Fortinos and Great Food stores. As cashiers, produce managers, grocery workers, deli personnel, and much more, our members ensure that Ontarians have access to quality food while enjoying excellent customer service, convenient store hours and a range of price options.
Your Union works hard to ensure that our members are compensated fairly for their quality work and substantial contributions to Ontario’s economy and people. Yet for over a decade, we have noticed a serious trend in the retail sector, one that has made it more difficult for us in our efforts to ensure fair compensation for our members. As with many industries in Canada, the big players in retail grocery have become increasingly anti-worker and anti-union. Collective bargaining with corporations on behalf of our members has become increasingly difficult. Negotiations for new contracts now take more time than before, leading to greater anxiety and stress in the lives of our members as they wait for the bargaining to conclude.
Also, corporations are increasingly less willing to consider reasonable proposals that are necessary to address fundamental workplace issues for our members. From job security and benefits to health and safety issues, employers are putting forward untenable demands that make it harder to negotiate in the best interests of our members. They are clearly following corporate labour strategies that are hardnosed, unreasonable and at times outright hostile.
Why this alarming trend? Corporations claim that economic conditions necessitate the lowering of the working and, by extension, the living conditions of our members. They claim that rising food commodity prices, store lease rates, limits to retail price increase, and the existence of non-union shops like WalMart, among other factors, impede their ability to offer the wages, benefits and working conditions that our members deserve.
We cannot accept such excuses! Our members have a right to compensation (in the form of wages, benefits etc.) that are in line with their hard work, and your Union won’t accept anything less. While corporations argue that wage increases are not sustainable, the CEO’s are able to sustain their incredible salaries. While corporations argue that our members have to give up important job security clauses in contracts, corporate heads will do no such thing. Your Union refuses to accept the anti-worker line that our members must pay for so-called bad economic conditions when corporate heads refuse to do so.
Over the past 15 years, the retail grocery industry has indeed dramatically changed. The absolute size of key corporations has increased. Hence, economic power in the sector has become more concentrated in less and less hands. Through mergers, acquisitions and other market expansion strategies, corporations have become fewer so that those remaining are now bigger and have a greater share of the market. Despite their claims of hard economic times, the real reason for their anti-worker strategies is simple; they think that now they can get away with demanding more from workers even as they are willing to offer less.
Your Union leaders have worked hard to shift our bargaining strategy to address this new economic landscape in the retail grocery industry. Since corporations have become more powerful and global, it has become vital for us to shift our collective bargaining structure and strategy. With increased coordination across our bargaining units, and greater national-local cooperation and planning, your Union has been making all the necessary changes to be in step with the changing times.
Your Union is in a strong position to build on our progress in this direction so far, and continue developing the new structures and strategies for the 21st century to defend, and even enhance, our Union bargaining power at the table in the interests of our members.Our strong and united membership knows that solidarity is necessary at the bargaining table. We can and we will defeat unreasonable demands as we move forward together.
President, Local 175 UFCW Canada