May 29th, 2024

Loblaw-owned Dominion grocery workers’ new deal an ‘important victory’: expert

By Rosa Saba, The Canadian Press on April 30, 2024.

A customer browses an aisle at a grocery store In Toronto on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. A labour expert says Unifor has achieved an "important victory" after grocery workers at 11 Dominion stores in Newfoundland ratified a new deal Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Unifor has achieved an “important victory” after grocery workers at 11 Loblaw-owned Dominion stores in Newfoundland ratified a new deal Monday, a labour expert said.

After setting a precedent with a Metro strike in the Toronto area last year, “it looks like Unifor has successfully extended the pattern to the East Coast,” said Adam King, an assistant professor in the labour studies department at the University of Manitoba.

Workers voted 88 per cent in favour of the deal, which Unifor said will boost wages by $4.50 per hour for full-time workers by the end of the five-year agreement. Part-time workers will receive $3.20 per hour more.

The union represents more than 1,600 workers at the 11 stores, which are owned by Loblaw Cos. Ltd.

The deal contains the largest wage gains Dominion workers have ever seen, Unifor national president Lana Payne said in a news release.

“Unifor’s strategic and sector-wide bargaining strategy for supermarket workers has delivered the largest wage gains Dominion workers have ever seen,” she said.

The deal also includes signing bonuses, a lower threshold of hours for part-time workers to get health benefits, and a commitment from the employer to create 22 new full-time jobs within a year.

King said Unifor has successfully replicated the pattern it set last year after several thousand Metro workers in Toronto went on strike.

That month-long strike at 27 Toronto-area stores last summer resulted in a new contract that Unifor called “historic.”

Carolyn Wrice, president of Unifor Local 597, said Dominion workers didn’t face significant resistance from the employer in bargaining.

“I guess they didn’t want to put up a fight with Unifor,” she said.

The last time Dominion workers were in bargaining, in 2020, they went on strike for 12 weeks. This time they didn’t even take a strike vote, Wrice said. A tentative deal was reached after one day of conciliation.

King said Unifor used the rollback of early-pandemic “hero pay” as a mobilizing strategy in its strike against Metro to great effect.

“It’s clear that … there was a lot of pent-up frustration, especially on the wage front,” he said.

Between hero pay, inflation and grocery profits, it’s not surprising that workers have seized this opportunity to make significant gains, King said.

After the Metro workers ratified their deal, Unifor promised to bring similar gains to more stores, a tactic known as pattern bargaining where a union tries to more or less replicate a deal at multiple workplaces in the same sector.

So far it’s been successful. For example, the union achieved a similar agreement for No Frills workers at 17 Ontario stores in November.

Even though inflation has waned from its highs, it’s clear that wages are still an urgent issue for workers who have lost purchasing power since their last agreement, King said.

“For workers who are in a collective agreement, they’ve got to kind of wait till their time comes, right, to address those issues.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.

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