So your company wants concessions?
A few words to the wise for members of UFCW Locals 1000a, 175 and 1977.
Members of UFCW Locals 1000a, 175 and 1977 are about to be asked to give their Local Union Presidents a mandate to agree to concessions to their existing contracts with Loblaw's, Fortino's and Zehr's supermarket chains in Ontario. News of these concessions and the upcoming meetings broke just a few days ago.
As we understand it, the employers, subsidiaries of the hugely profitable George Weston empire, are proposing the concessions on the basis that they need a break in order to compete with Wal-Mart's new large format stores that are coming to soon Ontario. These stores will sell groceries and will prove formidable competition for the Canadian retailers because of the low wages and benefits they will provide for their non-union workers.
The employers are not proposing that their existing contracts be re-opened but rather are demanding that the UFCW Locals accept the concessions as proposed. Membership meetings for members of the three locals will be held during the last week of June and early July. At these meetings, members will be asked to give their Presidents a "mandate", or permission, to accept the concessions.
Here at MFD, we're not telling how to vote on this issue. We are, however, encouraging you to make an informed decision and to vote for what you think is best for you and your fellow workers. If that's not what's best for your union leaders, tough shit. The union is supposed to belong to you - not them. Here are some questions you may want to ask your leaders at the meetings so that you can get informed:
- Why are these concessions necessary and why now? Talk of Wal-Mart's new grocery stores has been on the street for years. So far, none of these stores have opened and even if some are going to open, why should members accept concessions in advance?
- What information have company officials shared with the union presidents to convince them of the need for concessions? What information did the union presidents ask for? Why hasn't this information been shared with the members? How do the union presidents know the company guys are telling the whole story or even the real story?
- When did the union presidents first discuss these concessions with Loblaw Companies? If it was "some time ago", why were members not informed immediately?
- Why are these "mandate meetings" being held in such a hurry? Why are they being held at the beginning of the vacation season when many members will not be able to attend?
- Why has information about the concessions not been posted on the Local's web sites or otherwise provided to members in advance of these meetings?
- It's management's job to make the company profitable and to go head-to-head with new competitors. With all the high-priced help at the corporate offices, why is the only strategy to make the company competitive one that involves squeezing the workers? There are other strategies for success in business. Why don't the company guys use them?
- Members have agreed to concessions in the past and always because they were told it was necessary to make the company profitable. Well, the company is profitable - hugely profitable. How much more do they need? What guarantees are there that if the union agrees to these concessions, they won't be squeezed again and again and again?
- There has been talk about "new banners" or "new stores" that will be "the focus of future growth" for the employers. What do the union presidents know about these new stores? When were they told about them?
- Has voluntary recognition been discussed? Has the company indicated that it might give the UFCW voluntary recognition for new stores if they agree to these concessions?
- How serious can the company be about launching new stores if the Ontario market is saturated with supermarkets already? Where are they going to build these new stores? What are they going to do with existing stores? If they continue to operate the existing stores and build new stores, they'll be competing with themselves won't they? Loblaw is at max as far as the competition bureau is concerned. They can't take more market share, so if they opened stores, they would have to close stores. If they do that, it would be a transfer of business and the contract would follow. What they are trying to do is "double breast" and that isn't allowed either.
- Why will there be no ratification vote for the proposed concessions? Isn't a ratification required by law if a contract is being changed in mid-term? What does the Ministry of Labour say about this?
- Why are the concessions being called a "settlement"? Did the local presidents agree to them already, without any discussion at all with members?
- What's the point of belonging to a union if we end up further behind even after a contract is ratified?
- If Wal-Mart's use of non-union workers is the problem, why doesn't the union try to organize them instead of asking existing members to take wage cuts so they can be more like non-union workers?
- If members accept these concessions, won't this set off a "race for the bottom" in the unionized supermarket industry? Won't Loblaw's/Fortino's/Zehr's competitors demand the same cuts from their unions so that they can compete? Is that a good thing for union members and for the labour movement? Is that what solidarity is all about?
- Have these concessions been discussed with the leaders of other unions that represent workers in the supermarket industry? How about the CAW? They represent workers at A&P? Shouldn't the unions in this industry take a stand together against concessions?
- Are the union presidents willing to take a cut in their substantial salaries - a cut that would be equal, percentage wise, to the cuts they are asking the members to take? If not, why not?
- How do the leaders of the UFCW locals explain their willingness to give the employers concessions because "Wal-Mart is coming", considering that only 2 years ago, Michael Fraser, Director of UFCW Canada, had this to say about that:
UFCW Canada finds Loblaw comments "unacceptable"
May 3 2001 - UFCW Canada Director Michael Fraser attacked comments made by company chair Galen Weston at Loblaw's AGM in Halifax. Weston told reporters that the company is looking for "more flexibility" in its labour relationships. A statement by company president John Lederer added, "It is important for both union leaders and our employees to recognize this evolving competitive landscape ..." Fraser said that the solid financial health of Loblaw Companies Ltd. should be an indicator of good times ahead for its employees. "This is a time for the Loblaw companies to be enjoying their prosperity and sharing those benefits with the workers who make the profits possible. Instead, there appears to be a coded message in these statements, and that is that Loblaws wants to lower the high benchmark our union has set for workers in this industry," says Fraser.
"They seem to be intent on trying to drive down the high standards that UFCW Canada members currently enjoy, all because they feel threatened by what they call 'non-union mass merchandisers' like Wal-Mart. Well, we're not dealing with Wal-Mart. We're dealing with Loblaw. When Galen Weston is taking home $20-million a year, and (retired president) Richard Currie gets a $10- million going-away present, this is simply unacceptable. Rather than making such unproductive use of its profits, the company should be reinvesting that kind of money into its most valuable resource, the workers who have made Loblaw such a leader in its industry. UFCW Canada will ensure that our members are rewarded for the contribution they make to the continued success of this employer."
Loblaw is a major employer in Canada with 114,000 people of whom about 89,000 are unionized, most being members of UFCW Canada. UFCW Canada is concentrated mainly in the food retailing and production industries and represents more than 220,000 Canadian workers.