Monday, September 07, 2009

Labour Day wasn't , and not because it is a statutory holiday, for 350 workers employed by Safeway in their Edmonton distribution centre and their ice cream plant. The workers are represented by Local 401 of the UFCW. The interesting thing about the story that follows is that the union brass had come to an agreement on a contract with management, but this proposal was rejected by over 70% of the members. The union brass were then obliged to call a strike they didn't want, Management, in turn, declared a lockout and has begun to hire scabs. Stay tuned to this situation.
Here's the story from the pages of the Edmonton Journal.
Labour Day showdown at Safeway
Warehouse workers reject deal agreed to by their union

By Andrea Sands, Edmonton Journal
September 7, 2009

A union leader is expecting chaos to mark Labour Day today as Canada Safeway workers hit the picket lines in west Edmonton in a combined strike and lockout.

The fact that members rejected a deal that was recommended by the union's leaders is indicative of the high level of frustration, said Doug O'Halloran, local president of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

"I think it just shows that the members are upset with their treatment and it's a hard place to work," O'Halloran said Sunday.

A labour expert said the members' decision to strike is rare.

"This is relatively unusual because, most often, the members accept the leaders' recommendations," said labour expert Yonatan Reshef, a business professor at the University of Alberta.

"The economic situation in Alberta right now is not great at all. It's always intriguing as to why union members would go against the leaders, but right now, given the economic situation, it's even more so."

About 350 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 who work at Safeway's Edmonton distribution warehouse, Lucerne ice-cream plant and frozen food warehouse have been without a contract since December 2008.

On Aug. 26, Canada Safeway and union negotiators reached a deal, which the union then recommended to members.

However, in a surprise move, more than 70 per cent of the 350 workers went against their union's advice and voted to reject the deal.

"I've never had it happen before," said O'Halloran. "We have a lot of strikes and we don't go to the membership unless we think we've got every last nickel. When we go there, we go for the right reasons."

Union leaders will support the members' decision to reject the contract, he said.

"The company has served lockout notice and we have served strike notice. Our position will be that we're locked out and there's nothing that goes in and out of the warehouses. We'll see how it plays out," O'Halloran said.

"I think it's going to be a bunch of confusion and chaos. That's usually what happens the first day of a strikelockout when you have 300 people involved."

Safeway is expected to have security workers at the warehouse and ice-cream plant.

The company has been advertising for employees to fill temporary warehouse jobs at $18.41 per hour.

"That disappoints me," O'Halloran said. "I would have thought that we go on strike, and if people don't want to cross the picket line, then the plant doesn't operate. Not only are they advertising right away, but it looks like they're going to try to operate the plant, which will make the members more upset."

The $18.41-an-hour wage being offered to temporary workers will also anger union members, because it is too high, he added.

Part-time employees normally earn between $14 and $18 an hour, and full-time staff earn up to $20 an hour, O'Halloran said.

"If you work part-time and then full-time, it would take you about three or four years to get to the top rate."

Despite the members' anger, O'Halloran said he expects the strike will be a peaceful one "as long as the company doesn't hire a bunch of goon security guards."

Workers were planning to begin picketing at 6 a.m. today outside the distribution centre and ice-cream plant along Yellowhead Trail, between St. Albert Trail and 149th Street.

"I hope cool heads prevail on all sides and we can get a settlement and everybody can get back to work," O'Halloran said.

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