An Interview with Tom Smith
MFD: When did you first understand the warehouse closure was imminent?
Tom: April 10th, they came around handing out letters. I refused to accept it. They registered it and I refused to pick it up.
MFD: What do you understand the reason for the warehouse closure is?
Tom: The Company says they can't get a deal from Overwaitea. They offered us a concessionary deal two years ago. Wanted us to take a roll back. It meant saving 60 jobs out of 250 fulltime. They know we know what this company is all about now. Who's going to feel good about working for that company? Doesn't matter if they give you $20 an hour raise, we know what they're true want is. They just want to get rid of us because we know what a lucrative business is.
We've been there for 32 yrs some of us, understand the profits they make. They know it would be easier to hire people for $10 an hour and give them a 50 cent raise and maybe have some happy employees in there, but we all know better. And that's why they want to get rid of us.
We have the knowledge of how much they make and how much they can afford to pay us and they don't want to do that. At least Hitler liked his people.
MFD: Have there been actions to protest the closure?
Tom: 4 months of leafleting all around the lower mainland, over to the Island, Kamloops, Merritt all the way to Prince George. Talking to people, turning people around asking them not to shop there [Save-On/Overwaitea]. Wearing placards in front of the stores. Big banners on Friday, we plan to do again. 20 to 30 foot, 4 ft wide, please don't shop save-on foods, Jim Pattison contracts out 250 jobs, 250 men will lose their jobs, all along those lines. We had four of them go up.
Had them along the rush hour routes, over on the 99, over on the Pitt River Bridge, 216 and 152nd.
MFD: Who supplied the banners?
Tom: Just the guys from the warehouse got together and made them. The union didn't know until it actually happened.
MFD: Are there more protests planned?
Tom: Yeah but I don't want to talk about it. Element of surprise is only good if it's a surprise.
MFD: Has the union been supportive of the workers protest actions?
Tom: They contributed the leaflets, they paid for our hotel up in Prince George. Not so much what they refuse to do, they just put things on the back burner. I asked for 1000 signs six weeks ago, 4 weeks ago, 2 weeks ago. I wanted these signs to go on poles, we got tree climbers who can do it.
I asked them for a motor home to go around the Island. I had four guys lined up to go there and just go 4 weeks just to do 2 days at each store on the Island and back up to the Caribou. They actually tuned me down.
MFD: What do you think the union strategy is?
Tom: Well it seems if we have any success they ask us to change our strategy. So I don't know. Maybe they got an ace in their sleeve but I don't know. They don't want us to hurt retail, that's how it appears to me.
MFD: Has the union told you why retail has not been more involved?
Tom: From the get go I know they've had hundreds of calls from retail, saying they'd come out to help us leaflet. I know Tony (Tony Evangilista: Industrial Sector) had calls from them and he's trying to get them out there. I think it's Brooke that's actually not letting it happen. He put out a letter asking the industrial sector.
Get back to the list of what we want from this. We want to preserve these jobs for people who want them and we want an out for people who want out. Because these people are nasty people. Personally I don't want to work for them anymore, I think they're evil.
Overwaitea, anything Overwaitea or Jimmy has his hands in. I don't want no part of it he's a ruthless man. You know they say he always gets rid of the lowest salesman. Well we're the second most efficient warehouse in North America and he's getting rid of us after 32 years of loyal service. Some people you know, myself I don't think he'll get away with it. If he does in this life he won't in the next. I know that.
MFD: How is this impacting you and your co-workers.
Tom: Well I'd say these guys are pretty immune to it. For 10 years we've heard they're to close down and they've been threatening. So it was kind of a joke. What, they're just going to try and jam another sub-standard deal down our throats, right. You know there are a lot of guys, I've seen guys with hives on their bodies they're so stressed out. Myself. Pretty worn down here, lots of people stressed out having fights with their families. Lots of pressure at work. Peter (Loman manager) is walking around laughing at guys because their job is going out the door. He milks 125 grand off our backs and he sits there snickering and smiling.
MFD: What is the company's response to the stress levels of the workers?
Tom: They love it. Peter takes a lot of pride in his work. He was taunting me last week. I went up one side of him and down the other but he wouldn't come down the aisle, there are no cameras. He stood with his hands in his pockets, I swear he was touching himself. He was grinning from ear to ear because I was so upset. He loves it, he thrives on it.
MFD: Who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the warehouse?
Tom: Jeffery Allen came in and got exactly what the company wanted and once his job was done, Peter (Loman manager) came in to baby sit. In my opinion, the guy is a major contributor to the mess we all are today.
MFD: When did you get sick Tom?
Tom: August 21st, woke up, sore lower back, last four months been going pretty much 24/7. Just got back from Prince George for 10 days. Pretty intense trip; pretty successful trip. Put in a lot of hours just leafleting.
MFD: What lead up to this suspension?
Tom: It goes on a one-year basis, like a floating year. I got suspended on June 3rd. At that point, they said I needed to improve my attendance. On June 3rd, they say I was eight minutes late. Well, that's the day I was suspended. This one (produces documentation) they had me AWOL. I got paid ATO on my check. That one doesn't count. Next one (more docs) they had me down as sick and this is the day of injury when I cracked my rib, so I was off for about a month. When I came back this was the first week I was back, and I worked four hours overtime on the Monday; 12 hours on the Tuesday; injury on June 26th; I came back July 28th; the 29th I worked a 10 hour day; 30th I worked a 12-hour day; on the 31st, I came in 53 minutes late; I slept in. I worked this overtime because the company and the union told me if I didn't work they could sue me.
I was already being sued by Overwaitea. I can't afford to be sued by Lomans, so I stayed. I was too tired to do it, and I guess maybe I was already sick. I told them I was exhausted, but I had to work incase I was sued. That's the one incident I had, after working this overtime.
Then I was sick on Sunday, haven't been back to work since. I have a viral infection now and they are saying I am either terminated or suspended until the end of the contract.
MFD: How did you find out about the discipline?
Tom: It was Gord Carter [chief steward] who called and said Peter was going to terminate me. And then he said it wasn't a termination, it was a suspension and I had to come and pick up this letter and I said no, "don't you understand I'm sick?" I'll get the letter I guess when I come back to work. That's when he can suspend me, but not until this incident is over.
I mean if this incident lasted a year, one incident a year they can't do it, right?
We're allowed a lot. We're allowed a combination of six lates and six sick days. A combination of 13 days. I think that's how it works. I've had one incident in two months, and they suspend me. One more incident now, and I'm sick and they're trying to terminate me and it's wrong. There has to be some form of consistency in there.
MFD: Will you continue your protest after the warehouse closes?
Tom: Oh yes-against this corporation anyway. Jim Pattison still makes money off selling apples, and that's my job. I will not sleep at night. We got a core of guys who look for a job during the day and go leaflet at night. The guys who've been with the warehouse the longest are doing what they've always done, riding on the backs of the guys who've been there not as long. Ten years ago they sold the new hires rates out, they sold all the new hires just so they could save themselves and get closer to retirement. They're sitting back going, "I don't want to leaflet that's embarrassing."
What's embarrassing is they've milked the union wage and benefits for years and they're not willing to fight for it for their kids and grandkids. They figure I got my ride out of it, good enough.
MFD: Which workers are fighting the hardest?
Tom: The guys in the middle, the young guys. I mean the new hires rates are $10, but the do have the ability if the company would grow, to get that full wage and get everything they, right? We're a dinosaur contract. Ain't too many people with benefits left. My grandfather fought hard for them. I'm not ready to give them up.
MFD: What do you expect from your union?
Tom: Right off I want equality in unions. It's funny. I've been there 15 yrs and for the first time we're all equal. We're all equal because we're all getting pushed out the door at the same time. And I want to get rid of the new hire rates. That's what I want from my union. They hired me in '88 for $18 an hour. We got guys starting today for $10. That's pathetic. And the union takes the same dues off them. I can understand the $10 from the company but where the fuck is the union coming from? How much union dues. They told me $14 or $16 a week whatever it was. I said yeah for the $20 an hour 40 hours a week it should be. I said for $10 an hour it should be $2.80. I said you guys are more corrupt than the company. Get rid of the new hire rates; it's pathetic. Get rid of them that's what's destroying unions-the new hire rates.
MFD: What is the background of the senior workers?
Tom: The core of us are "the pride of '88". So the men that work there came from different professions-firemen, teachers and tradesmen. Seventy percent of them have different job skills. When they came to the warehouse, it was the job package, benefit package. When we were hired, they told us they wanted people to stay and grow with the company-that's what we've done. We've stayed, grown older, and they just want to get rid of us, right? But we're not your average $8-an-hour warehouse worker from the 90's that didn't have other jobs. We were very well educated and skilled people who went to work there. I don't think they realize who they're dealing with. The company has grown. OFG has grown 10 fold since they hired me.
Jim Pattison shook my hand and said, "if you work hard you'll be a foreman one day." Well what a let down. In my opinion, Jimmy wasn't telling me the truth. I believe that he's not applying Christian principles like a good Christian. In my books, he's a bad man.
MFD: Has any worker spoken to Jimmy Pattison?
Tom: I did. I gave him a leaflet and the spiel. I pretended I didn't know who he was and told him what was going on, and he just smiled and went on his merry way. So he is very aware of what's going on.
MFD: What contact do the workers have with Brooke Sundin [Local 1518 president] and Ivan Limpright [sec-treasurer]?
Tom: Brooke we haven't seen him. Ivan we've seen him twice. I believe they're both on holidays.
Last time I seen Brooke was at the GMM. I was very upset with the level of knowledge in the stores. How green those people are, [they don't know] what union they belong to, what their rights and obligations were as union members. And I came down on Brooke for it.
At the end of the meeting I tried to talk to him and he wouldn't talk to me. So I don't know where Brooke's at. I tried to apologize for getting angry. I sat up front, and I got very angry. I had got dirty looks from my union brothers and sisters in the stores. I had dirty names called to me by the same union brothers and sisters. I was very upset. I talked to people in the stores, couldn't tell me what union they belonged to, and I wondered what is it these business agents do. They can't be representing members that don't know what union they belong to.
I was asking Brooke you know what do these people do. Give me a truck full of contracts. I'll go educate the members. And after the meeting I went up and tried to apologize for getting angry. I tried to explain why I was feeling this way and he put his hands up and said I will not talk to you. So there's the president that I pay will not talk to me.
MFD: What do you understand the union is doing to protect the jobs?
Tom: They told us it's going to the LRB and that's all they've told us. The leafleting and that's it. There are lots of things I feel could be done. I asked for things it seems the unions do enough just to cover their ass, so they won't be sued for misrepresentation. Just to cover their ass-that's the way it seems from this end. Maybe that's just my view.
MFD: What message would you give to the union?
Tom: Get on board!
MFD: What message to Jimmy Pattison?
Tom: God's sick of hearing your confessions every Sunday. Start doing the right things.
MFD: What message to Lomans?
Tom: Good luck finding work 'cause I've never seen a more pathetic management team in my entire life.
MFD: What message would you like to give to your co-workers?
Tom: To all the people at the warehouse I'd like to thank the ones who have been out trying to fight for their jobs. Hats off to them they're great people.
And to the people who are too embarrassed, well we'll see how embarrassed you are when you're collecting welfare, and if you don't want to fight for your job then quit because 150 guys will get a deal a lot easier than 250 will and we don't need the dead weight. All you guys have done for years is sell, sell, sell. It's time to fight, fight, fight! Get off your butt and do it.