Metro and Unifor return to bargaining table after court restricts union pickets

A striking employee of the grocery store Metro drums using a construction cone at the secondary picket line at a distribution warehouse in Toronto, Wednesday, Aug. 23, THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Col

TORONTO — Metro and Unifor have returned to the bargaining table a month after thousands of the grocer’s employees went on strike across Toronto, the union said.

Just hours earlier, an Ontario court granted Metro a temporary injunction to restrict pickets by striking workers at distribution warehouses in the city.

“The union remains focused on achieving a fair collective agreement to end the strike with a contract that provides decent work and pay to frontline grocery workers,” said Unifor spokesman Paul Whyte in the statement.

Metro spokeswoman Marie-Claude Bacon confirmed they’re back at the negotiation table.

More than 3,700 workers at 27 Metro stores in the Greater Toronto Area have been on strike since July 29 after rejecting their first tentative agreement.

Metro announced it was seeking an injunction against Unifor and the workers on Friday, the third day of picketing at its distribution warehouses that prevented deliveries of fresh products, namely produce, meat and dairy, to its stores provincewide.

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After the temporary order was granted, the Montreal-based grocer said deliveries would resume to resupply stores as soon as possible. Bacon said the grocer remained committed to the bargaining process and urged the union to come back to the table.

Click to play video: 'Metro workers continue warehouse strikes, company seeks injunction'
Metro workers continue warehouse strikes, company seeks injunction

The order restricts picketers from unlawfully blocking or delaying access to multiple Metro distribution centres and corporate offices, but allows them to delay delivery vehicles for up to five minutes.

It expires at midnight on Friday, Sept. 1. The restricted locations also include a Food Basics store located at the grocer’s corporate offices on Dundas St. W.

Temporary injunctions are intended to set rules in place ahead of a final decision on whether the law has been violated, which can take some time, David Doorey, an associate professor of labour and employment law at York University, said in an email.

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Metro would need to request another injunction if the picketers resume the restrained activities after the order expires, said Doorey.

However, Whyte said Unifor is ending the picketing at Metro warehouses as a “gesture of good faith” amid the renewed talks.

Unifor previously said it’s waiting for a better wage offer from Metro before it returns to the table.

“If there is one group of workers who deserve respect, decent pay and decent work, it is grocery store workers in this country,” Payne told reporters at a secondary picket line last Wednesday.

The striking workers have been calling for the return of their pandemic ‘hero pay’ of $2 an hour.

Metro last week said it filed an unfair labour practice complaint against Unifor, arguing it wasn’t negotiating in good faith by not returning to the bargaining table.

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