Tentative deal reached in Saskatoon Co-op strike

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WATCH ABOVE: A tentative deal has been reached in the five-month long Saskatoon Co-op strike – Apr 15, 2019

Saskatoon Co-op has reached a tentative deal with the union representing roughly 900 workers.

The bargaining committee for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1400 met with the employer on Friday and Saturday, according to Rod Gillies, director of negotiations for the local.

READ MORE: UFCW workers at Saskatoon Co-op on strike

“With the assistance of a special mediator, the parties reached a tentative agreement early Sunday morning,” Gillies said.

Mediation was non-binding, according to a Saskatoon Co-op news release.

Multiple meetings and ratification votes will be held Tuesday, allowing members to decide whether they approve of the agreement.

The parties have agreed to not share details of the tentative deal before the meetings.

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Union members walked off the job on Nov. 1, 2018. Workers have been without a contract for more than two years.

The sides have been at odds over a proposed two-tier wage scale that would pay new employees less than existing workers.

On the picket line Monday in the Stonebridge neighbourhood, Co-op meat cutter John Thompson was cautiously optimistic.

“I hope it’s all good and everything like that, but I’m not going to do back flips just quite yet,” Thompson said.

In January, the company said 60 per cent of UFCW Local 1400 members voted to reject an offer from the company.

Saskatoon Co-op said its January offer included revisions to the second-tier wage structure, including fewer position in the lower tier and higher starting wages.

READ MORE: Striking Saskatoon Co-op employees reject latest contract offer

The company has argued current wages are unsustainable and need to change to ensure the Co-op remains competitive.

The union has stated the two-tier system would lower wages for women and vulnerable groups.

Scott Walsworth, associate professor of industrial relations at the University of Saskatchewan, called the dispute a “really long strike.”

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“Both sides had plenty of time to dig their heels in and get entrenched,” said Walsworth, who is also a labour arbitrator.

If ratification goes through, he foresees two challenges for Saskatoon Co-op: integrating employees into the workforce with management and whether customers will return.

The arbitrator said Co-op has positioned itself as a community-focused brand with values set by its members. During the strike, Walsworth said some people may have started viewing the Saskatoon Co-op differently.

“The challenge for the company will be to regain that same place in the hearts of Saskatchewan consumers,” Walsworth said.

Co-op gas stores, gas stations and other locations in the Saskatoon area have been affected by the dispute.

The Centre Mall food store and gas bar have been unaffected because employees there belong to a different union.

-With files from Dave Giles.

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