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Safeway workers in B.C. vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike action

More than 3,000 Safeway workers at 40 Lower Mainland locations have voted in favour of strike action following eight months of contract bargaining.

On Sept. 14, 98 per cent of Safeway union members in the Lower Mainland voted in favour of a strike

A brown building sits in the background with a sign reading "Safeway." In front is a parking lot filled with cars.

More than 3,000 Safeway workers at 40 Lower Mainland locations have voted in favour of strike action following eight months of contract bargaining.

In a statement, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 1518 local union chapter says they had the highest voter turnout in decades on Thursday with 98 per cent voting for strike action.

"We've had several rounds of negotiations and in that time the wage offer has come no more than one per cent," said Kim Novak, president of UFCW 1518.

"[Union members] have had enough waiting. They want a deal now. They want to see their share of the hard work they've done reflected in respect and that comes in the form of higher wages."

Novak says Safeway union members hope to see wage increases reflect the impacts of inflation and the rising profits of Safeway's parent company, Empire Co. Ltd.

On Thursday, Empire Co. Ltd reported first quarter net earnings of $261 million, in comparison to $187.5 million last year.

"We want to see our members and the workers share in that success … when it comes to the money that's where we seem to have really found the employer delaying," said Novak.

Supermarket chain Safeway was acquired in 2013 by Sobeys Inc., a subsidiary of Empire Co. Ltd.

CBC reached out to Sobeys for comment, but did not hear back by publication time.

'Workers are being left behind'

Novak says the union does not plan to issue a strike notice at this time. Instead they are going back to the bargaining table over the next few weeks.

She adds discussions were originally scheduled for August, but was delayed until September by Safeway.

"That gave us the time to really connect with our members and hear loud and clear," she said, adding members highlighted their struggle with current wages.

"We all see how expensive it is to go grocery shopping … members want to be able to see themselves pay their bills and have that wage increase that they haven't seen in the last few years."

Novak says in the past, grocery companies have decreased or frozen wages due to low profits, which isn't the case for Safeway.

"Since the pandemic, these stores continue to make more and more and more, and yet the workers are being left behind," she said, adding Empire Co. Ltd.'s "astronomical" profits should be reflected in wage increases.

"[Company] success means that that's more job security for our members, [but] those jobs need to come with real wage increases."

Novak hopes the strike action vote will influence Safeway to increase their wage offer.

"We just got a good contract with Save-On-Foods, an industry leading one … we want to do the same thing at [Safeway]."

A statement from UFCW 1518 noted UFCW 247, the union for Safeway's meat, deli and seafood workers, are also taking a strike vote at the end of this month.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arrthy Thayaparan is an associate producer at CBC Vancouver. She's interested in health, environment, and community stories. You can contact her at arrthy.thayaparan@cbc.ca.

    With files from On The Coast

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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