97% of Alberta Superstore workers vote in favour of strike

A Real Canadian Superstore in Ottawa, Ont., on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

The union representing Alberta Real Canadian Superstore workers says 97 per cent of employees have voted in favour of a strike, according to a news release issued on Sept. 24.

Scott Payne, labour relations officer at United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 401, said Wednesday that employees voted to strike because they are frustrated with Superstore’s last offer and feel that the company does not value their work and sacrifices.

“Superstore workers did not have the luxury of working from home during the pandemic,” he said on behalf of UFCW 401 president Thomas Hesse.

“They were deemed essential and rose to the occasion, going to work every day to put food on the tables of Albertans when they needed it the most.”

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Of the 40 Superstores in Alberta, more than 30 had outbreaks, Payne said, noting that some employees died due to COVID-19 exposure.

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“These workers were scared every time they stepped into their stores. They were on the front lines, dealing with the public during the pandemic,” he said.

“They had to fight for minimal health and safety precautions, dealt with overwhelmed and angry customers who took their own anxieties around the pandemic out on them.”

Payne said Superstore rolled out “hero pay” but “clawed” it back, even as the chain profited. Superstore needs to show employees they matter, he said.

“There is no silver bullet here in terms of answers. There are a wide variety of issues that are causing the frustration expressed by Superstore union members’ 97 per cent strike vote last week, from wages to benefits to scheduling and beyond,” he said.

“But if there is a unifying theme to that anger and frustration, it is feeling like they just don’t matter.”

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The union stressed unity and solidarity, saying if the strike happens, “your union will be asking you and your family not to shop at Superstore, nor any of the Loblaws-owned businesses such as No Frills, T&T Supermarket, or Shoppers Drug Mart.”

The union said a strike vote is valid for 120 days, adding that a union is “only required to give a company 72 hours’ notice of strike action.”

“Ironically, the point of taking a strike vote is to attempt to avoid a strike,” said UFCW 401 secretary-treasurer Richelle Stewart.

“A strike vote is a tool to tell the company that unless they bargain fairly, employees could withdraw their labour.”

Hesse said next week, they will be going back to the bargaining table.

Loblaws, which owns Superstore, said: “We do not comment during bargaining, however, this is often a normal part of the process.”

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