Calgary Sobeys workers vote 96% for strike mandate

They also voted 97% to reject the latest offer made by the employer.

Earlier this week, the Alberta Labour Relations Board released their latest new applications report and in it was a new application for holding a strike vote.

The application was submitted on 4 October 2022 by Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union, otherwise known as UFCW 401. They’re applying for strike vote on behalf of a group of 207 workers employed at Sobeys Calgary refrigerated warehouse and the Lucerne Foods Commissary at the same location.

The refrigerated warehouse receives, stores, and ships meat, produce, and frozen food for delivery to Safeway stores throughout the province. UFCW 401 workers there ship, receive, and select orders; maintain and sanitize equipment; and perform clerical duties at the facility, which operates 24 hours a day.

Workers at the Lucerne Foods Commissary make fresh sandwiches, wraps, salads, snack trays, and other foods for the food service and convenience market.

Altex is a manufacturing firm based out of Edmonton. They specialize in shell and tube heat exchanger sales and service to the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries in Western Canada.

The union is certifying for all the workers at the Altex facility, except for office, clerical, and quality control workers.

Earlier this month, on the 4th, UFCW 401’s bargaining team held information and voting sessions for its members working at these facilities on whether they accepted the most recent offer from Sobeys.

Of those who showed up to vote, 96% of them voted to reject the offer.

The bargaining team took the results of this vote to the employer over the following two days, and while the company adjusted their offer slightly, the bargaining committee didn’t feel those changes were sufficient enough and thus organized a strike vote this past Thursday.

They also held a vote among its members to determine whether to accept the employer’s modified offer.

According to a media release published to their website just yesterday, 97% of those who voted to reject the barely modified offer. As well, 96% voted in favour of strike action.

This strike mandate doesn’t automatically mean that the workers are about to strike. It just gives the bargaining team additional leverage, being able to tell Sobeys that workers are prepared to strike if the company doesn’t provide an acceptable proposal.

The strike vote is good for 100 days and the union can give 72 hours strike notice at any point during that 100 days, if necessary.

The UFCW 401’s bargaining team has two more negotiation dates set for next week: 18th and 19th.

These bargaining efforts follow the successful negotiations UFCW 401’s bargaining team conducted on behalf of workers at Sobey’s refrigerated warehouse in Edmonton this past July.

Edmonton workers, in their new contract, won 2.5% retroactive pay on all hours worked from the expiry of the last contract, as well as a 9% increase over the life of the contract (an average of 3% per year).

The union’s bargaining team claims that Sobey’s is trying to offer smaller wage increases to Calgary workers doing the same work.

We need an improvement to the wage offer they have made. The offer is still less than what Edmonton received as a function of percentage increases. Your committee feels the company needs to offer more percentage increases to bring Calgary closer to Edmonton.

The bargaining team also claims that the employer is ignoring an increase they proposed to the premium for freezer workers.

As well, the union reports that the Lucerne Commissary could be moving to Balzac and that Sobeys has plans to automate the warehouse. Both of these initiatives could result in workers losing their jobs. The bargaining team claims that Sobeys has made no offers regarding these initiatives, despite the committee asking for severance packages for any workers who could be affected by them, should they end up occuring.

Since the ALRB doesn’t archive their new application reports on their website, here’s a copy of the most recent one.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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