Back Canadian grocery workers on strike against disparaging wage cut

By Beverly Bernardo
September 14, 2020
Aug. 23 picket at Dominion store in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. Some 1,400 workers rejected contract and went on strike after bosses took back $2 pay raise begun during pandemic.
The Telegram/Juanita MercerAug. 23 picket at Dominion store in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. Some 1,400 workers rejected contract and went on strike after bosses took back $2 pay raise begun during pandemic.

“I don’t know, but it’s been said, Galen’s pockets are lined with gold. I don’t know, but it’s been said, it’s time for workers to get ahead,” strikers at a St. John’s, Newfoundland, Dominion grocery store chanted, kicking off a solidarity rally streamed live from three Unifor picket lines in the Canadian province Aug. 31. Galen Weston is the owner of the Dominion chain stores and his family is the third richest in Canada. 

On Aug. 22 some 1,400 Unifor Local 597 members at 11 Dominion stores across Newfoundland went on strike. The key issues are low wages and for reinstatement of 60 full-time jobs that were eliminated in 2019. Unifor Local 597 President Carolyn Wrice told the media Aug. 23 that more than 80% of workers are part time, with limited access to benefits, and had not received a raise since spring 2018. 

Workers began calling for a strike in June — in the middle of contract talks — when Weston’s Loblaw Companies Limited, Dominion’s parent company, ended a 2 Canadian dollar-an-hour wage increase ($1.52) that had been granted for “essential workers” to keep them working during the coronavirus pandemic. The company’s proposed contract — which would have restored only half of that CA$2 over the entire three-year contract — was rejected by workers.

Workers in grocery, retail and other stores across North America face similar cutbacks, as bosses at Walmart, Kroger, Amazon and elsewhere eliminate “essential worker” wage increases like Dominion management did.

Robert Peddle from Mount Pearl, who has worked at Dominion for 40 years, told the Aug. 31 rally how last year the company declared redundant his full-time job as a backdoor receiver. “I now work 25 hours a week part time — forced to work part time — 15 hours less than before, for $5 less an hour.” The change also meant his benefits were cut.

“Please support us in our struggle for a fair and decent contract,” he said. 

On Aug. 27 dozens of representatives from unions and other organizations — including the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees; Teamsters; Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union; Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Registered Nurses Union; and the Fight for 15 and Fairness, a group pushing for a minimum hourly wage of CA$15 — joined the picket line in St. John’s. 

VOCM Local News reported on Aug. 29 that a judge has granted the bosses’ request for an injunction at Dominion stores against the picket lines blocking trucks. Wrice said the company claimed they needed the injunction so they could load food for area food banks. But the union would never stop trucks destined for food banks, she said. In fact, strikers are willing to help load such trucks so the food doesn’t go to waste. 

Unifor’s Atlantic Regional Director Linda MacNeil closed the rally by playing a videotaped message to Loblaw’s head Galen Weston by Cherie, a single mother who works as a cake decorator. She describes the difference a $2 wage increase meant for workers, “like being able to take your two sons out for dinner.”