Saskatoon Co-op union members are officially on strike.
Roughly 900 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) local 1400 walked off the job Thursday morning.
READ MORE: UFCW issues strike notice to Saskatoon Co-op
Picketers outside the Co-op gas bar at Avenue C North and Circle Drive chanted “don’t shop Co-op” as vehicles drove by.
Shoppers at the Co-op grocery stores on 33rd Street West and in Stonebridge arrived to see signs stating “We’re Closed.”
The two sides have been unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.
One stumbling block the union gave is the company’s desire to introduce a second-tier wage scale for new employees.
The new tier would create an average wage disparity of $2.64 between new and existing employees, according to Rod Gillies, director of negotiations for the local.
At the top rate, the highest wage gap would be $4.36 per hour, while clerk cashiers would see a difference of $3.57, Gillies said.
“The sole reason given by the CEO of the Saskatoon Co-op for the introduction of the second tier is ‘long term sustainability’ of the Co-op,” UFCW said in a Facebook post when they issued 48-hour strike notice on Monday.
The company said the retail landscape has changed in recent years, and the offer it tabled protects current workers’ wages and benefits while ensuring the long-term vitality of the company.
“Our current wage ranges are as much as 25 to 35 per cent higher than our competitors, which isn’t sustainable long-term,” Saskatoon Co-op CEO Grant Wicks said in a statement.
“The wage range that we’ve proposed to the union still allows us to compensate our new employees as well as or even better than our competitors.”
Co-op said it plans to remain open, but with reduced hours at most locations.
The strike affects grocery stores, gas stations, Agro centres, home centres, and liquor stores in Saskatoon and area.
The last Saskatoon Co-op strike occurred in 1983.
The food store and gas bar at the Centre Mall on 8th Street is not affected as employees at those locations are represented by a different union.
UFCW and Co-op are scheduled to return to the bargaining table on Nov. 2.