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Workers at Metro distribution centre off job in second grocery strike in 2 months

A woman walks pass a Metro grocery store in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ives. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ives

Grocery warehouse workers in Canada appear to be holding out for better pay and benefits after the second strike at a distribution centre in as many months.

More than 900 workers at Metro Inc.’s Toronto-area distribution centre went on strike Saturday, following the nearly 200 workers at a Sobeys Inc. distribution centre in Quebec that walked off the job in February.

The job action comes as grocers post strong profits and executive bonuses while inflation eats away at the spending power of workers.

Read more: Unifor reaches deal with Metro averting looming strike at grocery distribution centre

Canada’s unemployment rate has also dropped below pre-pandemic levels, potentially giving workers more confidence in the bargaining process.

“The members have final say on the tentative agreement and have opted to turn down this offer,” Chris MacDonald, Unifor assistant to the national president, said in a statement.

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Metro said the offer included a six per cent wage increase in the first year, with total wage increases of 14 per cent over four years.

The grocer said the tentative agreement also included improvements to pensions and benefits.

“We are disappointed with the employees’ decision to strike but remain ready to go back to the table. We have implemented our contingency plan and our stores will remain open to serve our customers,” Carmen Fortino, executive vice-president and division head for Metro in Ontario, said in a statement.

Unifor’s MacDonald said the union bargaining committee is ready to resume negotiations “in the hope of bringing this strike to a speedy end.”

Read more: Toronto warehouse workers at grocery giant Metro trigger strike

The Etobicoke distribution centre supplies Metro and Food Basics grocery stores across southern Ontario. Some customers reported shelves were less full than usual, especially in the produce section, at some Metro-owned stores in the Toronto area.

Meanwhile, 190 workers at a Sobeys distribution centre in Terrebonne, Que., went on strike in February after negotiations between the company and the union broke down.

Kim Bergeron, a lawyer representing UFCW Canada’s Local 501, said the pay and benefits are key sticking points. In an email, she said workers are set to vote on a tentative agreement on Friday.

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In late January, the union representing workers at a Sobeys warehouse east of Toronto said it ratified a four-year contract with “massive wage increases.”

Unifor said the agreement covering more than 500 workers at the Whitby distribution centre included a full-time pay increase of 19.5 per cent over four years.

The grocer, owned by Empire Co. Ltd., also agreed to signing bonuses, doubled its RRSP contribution and added a sixth week of vacation at 26 years of seniority, the union said.

“Through collective bargaining, we were able to deliver a strong contract that includes a considerable pay boost for existing workers as well as future hires while also levelling the playing field for our part-time members,” said Pat Twohey, Unifor Local 1090 bargaining chairman.

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