Agreement put forward 'fair' and 'equitable,' Metro says, but local union says it isn't enough
Residents across the Greater Toronto Area hoping to pick up groceries at Metro Inc. were greeted by closed doors and picket lines on Saturday as thousands of employees formally went on strike.
Some 3,700 members of Unifor Local 414 walked off the job shortly after midnight, effectively shuttering operations at 27 locations throughout the region. Picket lines had gone up by 8 a.m.
At one east-Toronto Metro store, striking workers taking shelter from heavy rains called for fair wages and chanted "workers united!" as passing drivers honked their horns.
Both federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Unifor National President Lana Payne were on hand to support the picket after workers rejected the collective bargaining deal tabled last week.
Unifor had endorsed the deal when it was first tabled and Payne described it Saturday as the "best agreement in decades," but said it ultimately wasn't enough to properly address what she described as deteriorating working conditions across the national grocery sector.
"We are living in a time when working people, particularly working people at grocery stores, are just not making ends meet," Payne told a morning news conference. "… We have faced in the past couple of decades an erosion of jobs in supermarkets across the country."
Payne said grocery store jobs that were once considered stable sources of family income have largely morphed into part-time roles that are inadequate to address today's higher cost of living. Payne said 70 per cent of jobs at Metro are now part-time, asserting the situation is worse at other leading grocers such as Loblaws and Sobeys.
Workers deserve fair wages, NDP Leader says
Singh said corporate grocery stores "have been making record profits" while Canadians are struggling to buy their groceries.
He said workers at corporate groceries are the reason why stores are making money — but said the same workers aren't able to shop at the stores they work at "because they are not getting fair wages."
"All workers deserve fair wages, so we fully support their call, particularly when we know that this company is not under any hardship," Singh said.
"This company is making massive profits and the workers that work in these companies deserve to get fair wages."
WATCH | Jagmeet Singh responds after Metro workers walk off job:
Striking Metro workers can't afford to shop at their own store, Jagmeet Singh says
'This company is not under any hardship. This company is making massive profits,' federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said during a show of support for striking workers outside a Metro in Toronto.
Payne also cited soaring profits and CEO compensation at the grocery giants, saying workers earning an average of $16-17 an hour want a higher share of the earnings they helped generate.
A study released last month from Canada's Competition Bureau found Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro — the country's three largest grocery companies — collectively reported more than $100 billion in sales and $3.6 billion in profits last year.
Samantha Henry, a deli clerk who's worked at Metro for 10 years, said workers were motivated to walk off the job due to a combination of rising living costs and lack of appreciation for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic when grocery stores continued to operate as an essential service.
The 36-year-old mother of three, who was on the bargaining committee for Local 414, said workers gave the union a 100 per cent strike mandate before talks got underway.
WATCH | Metro workers call for fair wages after walking off job:
'We're taking them on,' says worker as 27 Metro locations go on strike
Some 3,700 Metro grocery store workers across the Greater Toronto Area walked off the job Saturday after rejecting a tentative labour deal. Union representatives say employees want both greater stability and a share of the billions in profits the largest grocery retailers have posted in recent months. 'We see how much they're making — their profits, their bonuses,' says Tammy Laporte, a produce and cut fruit clerk.
Survival is nearly impossible these days, she said, citing rising rent and grocery costs with which most cannot keep pace.
"It's hard when you have three kids and you work at a retail job. You have to budget your money and make sure you know what's there every single week," she said.
Metro 'extremely disappointed' strike went ahead
Metro Ontario Inc. a subsidiary of Metro Inc., issued a statement on Friday saying it was "extremely disappointed" that a strike went ahead despite Unifor's own endorsement of the proposed deal.
"The company has been negotiating with the union for the past few weeks and reached a fair and equitable agreement that meets the needs of our employees and our customers while ensuring that Metro remains competitive," the statement reads.
"The settlement provided significant increases for employees in all four years of the agreement, as well as pension and benefits improvements for all employees, including part-time employees."
Metro Ontario said the 27 affected stores will be closed for the duration of the strike, but pharmacies will remain open. Stores impacted by the strike include those in Toronto and its suburbs, Brantford, Orangeville, Milton, Oakville, Brampton and Mississauga.
The labour strife at Metro marked an inauspicious start to a series of negotiations Unifor is set to take on in the coming months.
The country's largest private-sector union is preparing to bargain more than a dozen collective agreements with the major grocers over the next two years, with the Metro contract the first of the group.
Payne previously said the union plans to pattern bargain, meaning the Metro deal would ideally set a precedent for future negotiations.
The union has said its priorities for Metro workers were improving pay and access to benefits, as well as improving working conditions and stability.
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