Some 800 retail workers set up picket lines August 29 at five Hudsonís Bay department stores in Toronto, Windsor, Kitchener, Brampton, and Kingston. The strikers are fighting a company proposal to replace their current wage agreement with a "merit pay system."
Hudsonís Bay has more than 500 stores across Canada with 70,000 employees. Of the five stores where workers are on strike four remained open for business except the store in Windsor where union pickets had forced it to close.
"I donít believe in the merit system," said Dominique Stanley, who has worked at the Bay for 14 years and is a sales specialist in the Liz Claiborne designer clothes section. She explained that the merit system would create favoritism in the workplace with supervisors deciding which workers would get wage increases.
"They want us to sell more and be more customer-driven but I prefer to spend time with the customer and help them in their selection, rather than pressuring them to buy things that they donít want," she added.
Stanley told the Militant how Hudsonís Bay bosses attempt to bribe strikers with "friendly chats" to cross the picket line. They were being offered up to $300 and 5 percent wage increases. She said that out of the total workforce of 200 at the store in Toronto about 50 workers had returned to their jobs.
Bob Kolida, senior vice president of human resources at Hudsonís Bay, said linking an employeeís pay to the success of the store is "a competitive requirement in the retail sector." In early August the company issued an earnings warning on its second-quarter profits.
Overall sales have dropped by 2 percent compared with the second-quarter of 2001. The companyís share price plunged by 45 percent in the days following the earnings warning. Industry analysts say the Bayís profit margins have been "squeezed" by competition from department store giant Wal-Mart.
On the same day as the Bay issued the earnings warning, former employees of Simpsons, a retail chain that Hudsonís Bay bought in 1979, launched a class-action lawsuit claiming that the company illegally siphoned off $75 million from their pension fund.
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