Loblaw locks out 1,600 workers

"All the companies want to use Wal-Mart to set the lowest standards they can even where Wal-Mart isn't a problem," he said, noting Loblaw enjoys industry-leading profits and dominates up to half of the Newfoundland grocery market. Loblaw's offer to its Newfoundland workers is "insulting," he said. The workers, who are seeking a first contract, are among the lowest paid in the industry already. Starting rates are just 50 cents above the provincial minimum, the union said.

The Toronto Star
November 19, 2003

Loblaw locks out 1,600 workers
Employees began rotating strikes. Union says no to wage concessions.
Dana Flavelle

Canada's biggest supermarket chain has locked out about 1,600 workers at its 15 Dominion stores in Newfoundland after the workers began rotating strikes.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. said in a brief statement it had locked out the employees due to a labour disruption.

The workers, members of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 597, said they began picketing the stores to protest the company's demand for wage and benefit concessions.

The Toronto-based company said the offer contains signing bonuses, pay increases for existing employees and pension improvements.

However, it also said it needs more room to manoeuvre against lower-cost rivals.

"We're asking for flexibility so we can compete in a predominantly non-union retail environment," Loblaw spokesperson Geoff Wilson told Bloomberg News.

Wilson said a wage agreement would allow Loblaw to open warehouse-type stores in Newfoundland, similar to new stores in Ontario that carry more profitable non-food merchandise.

The stores are seen as Loblaw's response to the growing threat from low-cost operators, such as Wal-Mart, which are carrying more and more groceries.

But CAW president Buzz Hargrove said too many retailers are using the threat of low-paying competitors to demand contract concessions.

"All the companies want to use Wal-Mart to set the lowest standards they can even where Wal-Mart isn't a problem," he said, noting Loblaw enjoys industry-leading profits and dominates up to half of the Newfoundland grocery market.

Loblaw's offer to its Newfoundland workers is "insulting," he said.

The workers, who are seeking a first contract, are among the lowest paid in the industry already. Starting rates are just 50 cents above the provincial minimum, the union said.

Some members of Loblaw's much larger Ontario workforce are watching the dispute with interest after their own union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, agreed to concessions at the new superstores without consulting them.

One unhappy union member, Ben Blasdell, is challenging the United Food deal at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, saying it should have been put to a general membership vote.

The union's leaders said it agreed to Loblaw's terms in exchange for automatic recognition in those stores, an extension of its Real Canadian Superstore concept in Western Canada


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