Dozens of striking workers and supporters gathered outside the Sobeys-owned grocer Pete’s Frootique in Halifax on Sunday as employees called for an improvement to wages and benefits.
Early on Saturday morning, staff officially began their strike, which has since resulted in the store’s location on Dresden Row temporarily closing.
Signs held by striking workers showcasing messages like “Pete’s works because we do” and “I can’t afford to shop here” surrounded a larger banner that read “Pay workers fair wages” outside the retailer’s main entrance.
Terry Armour, a Pete’s employee who works in the store’s produce department, said he and his coworkers “are not going to stand idly by any longer” and accept their current working conditions.
“We’re done with the delay tactics and we’re demanding fair wages for everybody who works here,” he said.
According to a release from SEIU 2, the union representing Pete’s employees, Pete’s Frootique pays staff the provincial minimum wage of $15 per hour. Following the most recent bargaining sessions, it was said that Sobeys, its parent company, offered “a 20 cent per hour raise or less for over 70% of the workers.”
“Most would only see a five-cent increase,” the statement read, noting that a recent study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concluded that the living wage for two adults working full-time to support two children in Halifax currently sits at $26.50 per hour.
The union said there have been no new offers from the supermarket chain since the company’s most recent proposal on October 30.
In a statement provided to Global News on Sunday, a spokesperson for Sobeys said the supermarket chain was “disappointed” by the union worker’s decision to strike.
“We believe we could have found a path forward to ensure the store would remain open during the busy holiday season, and it is unfortunate we were not able to reach a deal,” the statement read.
“We are hopeful this will be resolved as quickly as possible and are ready and willing to get back to the table with the union as soon as the SEIU Local 2 leadership is ready.”
If his coworkers had accepted the offer, Armour said he would’ve seen a small difference in the paycheque that he received on Friday.
“I would currently be four dollars and 54 cents richer than I am today,” he said, adding that he worked 91 hours during his most recent pay period.
In March 2022, staff at Pete’s Halifax location voted to join the SEIU 2 union.
“It took many, many months to get those votes counted because of various delay tactics that Sobeys deployed … eventually we got the votes counted and have been negotiating for months,” Armour said. “A year and a half after voting to unionize, the best offer that Sobeys was able to put forward for us would’ve seen me and about half of my coworkers get a five-cent per hour raise. Which is not an offer, it’s a joke.”
In addition to striking workers and other members represented by the SEIU Local 2 union, several labour and community leaders vocalized their support at Sunday’s rally, including Halifax-Chebucto MLA and former provincial New Democratic Party leader Gary Burrill.
“Every single person deserves the right to be able to make enough at work to support themselves,” he said, clenching a microphone in front of a crowd of chanting workers. “We believe in you and what you’re standing for, and more importantly, we have every confidence that you’re going to win.”
Towards the end of the one-hour demonstration, Pete’s workers all held cut-out printings of a nickel with a frown drawn onto it, referencing the five-cent per hour raise that some staff members would’ve received in the retailer’s most recent offer.
“Sobeys, Sobeys, you’re all greed, pay your people what they need,” the crowd yelled together.
Serena Gagné, who’s worked at Pete’s for the last four years as a cash supervisor, was pleased to see the turnout from both staff and community members during Sunday’s rally.
“It’s so heartwarming to see everyone coming together to show corporations that are so big like Sobeys, that they can’t be greedy anymore and that we are going to fight back,” she said. “We are not going to stand down until they give us a fair wage.”
Armour said he’d return to the bargaining table if Sobeys would come back to his staff with “a real offer” and noted that as of now, his fellow coworkers and union representatives haven’t received any communication from their employer since announcing their strike action on Saturday.
“We want to actually negotiate for fair wages … not just waste our time,” he said.