It’s been two weeks since employees of Sobeys-owned grocer Pete’s Frootique in Halifax went on strike, and any sign of progress remains to be seen. The workers’ calls for increased wages and benefits are beginning to generate support from community members and federal leaders alike.
Dozens of employees and supporters attended another solidarity rally Saturday outside the store on Dresden Row, which included a video message delivered from federal New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh.
“You deserve pay that keeps up with inflation,” Singh said as a crowd huddled around the store’s entrance and listened, holding signs reflective of worker’s frustrations that included messages like One Day Longer? and Pay Up Sobeys.
“The offer (the employer) put on the table is clearly not good enough and so I stand in solidarity with you. When you fight for decent conditions for work, you’re fighting for all workers,” Singh said.
Nicholle Savoie, a supervisor at Pete’s, said the purpose of Saturday’s event was to show Sobeys that “we are not backing down.”
“This is day fifteen of our strike, we’ve all been out here every day in the rain and snow,” she said. “This is an incredibly brave, strong group of people … we are not going back until we have fair wages and sick days. It’s not an option.”
Savoie said the support from the broader community, including allied unions and branches of government, has been “incredible” as she expressed her gratitude for the rally turnout.
“We are willing to be out here as long as it takes,” she said.
A spokesperson from Sobeys shared a statement to Global News Saturday in response to the ongoing strike.
“We continue to be disappointed our teammates chose to strike rather than remain at the table to negotiate a deal,” the statement read. “We still firmly believe this can be resolved as soon as union leadership is ready to return to the table.”
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 at least 70 per cent of the workers.
“Sobey’s last offer would provide most employees with a mere five-cent per hour 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.
There are close to 100 unionized workers at the store.
The provincial NDP leader was also in attendance – Dartmouth-South MLA Claudia Chender shared some words of support for the rallying workers.
“These are workers that we called heroes just a couple of years ago,” Chender said in an interview with Global News following the rally.
“When we have these workers, many of whom worked through the pandemic … who are making close to $15 an hour, who can’t buy groceries at the grocery store that they shop at, who can’t pay their bills, that’s absolutely something we want to lend our voice to and support.”
Chender said she believes Sobeys is hesitant to cut a deal with the striking employees because it may “set a precedent” that could lead workers at other retailers to follow in the footsteps of those at Pete’s.
“The reality is that right across this province, people should not be in front-line jobs that don’t pay them enough to live,” she said.
— with files from Vanessa Wright