OTTAWA, Ontario — As they enter their third week on strike, 1,400 Dominion grocery store workers in Newfoundland received solidarity on Labor Day from fellow Unifor union members and other supporters of their fight for full-time jobs and higher wages. Actions were held coast to coast. Here in Canada’s capital, we joined in handing out leaflets in support of the strike in front of a Loblaw’s chain store, whose owners also run Dominion.
In other cities strike supporters picketed Shoppers Drug Marts and Real Canadian Superstores, which are also owned by Loblaw Companies Limited. With 135,000 workers, it’s Canada’s largest private-sector employer.
Galen Weston, whose family owns Loblaw, is one of Canada’s richest billionaires.
Unifor Local 597 members at 11 Dominion stores across Newfoundland went on strike Aug. 22. They’re fighting for a contract with higher wages and reinstatement of 60 full-time jobs that were eliminated in 2019. More than 80% of workers are part time, with limited access to benefits and haven’t received a raise since spring 2018, Unifor Local 597 President Carolyn Wrice told the media.
Workers began calling for a strike in June — in the middle of contract talks — when Loblaw Companies Limited ended a 2 Canadian dollar-an-hour wage increase ($1.52) that had been granted to their “essential workers” to keep them working during the coronavirus pandemic. The company’s proposed contract — which would restore only half of that CA$2 over the entire three-year contract — was rejected by workers.
The strike is the most important labor battle in North America today.
A dozen unionists from several Unifor locals — at Rexall Drugs, Bell Canada telecommunications and in nursing homes — joined the action here. “I am here to support the Dominion workers in Newfoundland, highlighting the plight of Loblaw workers and all workers with low wages and few benefits, even if they’re not in the same union I am,” Ahmed Ismail told the Militant. Ismail works in tech support at Bell Canada and is a member of Unifor Local 6004.
In Toronto some 50 unionists picketed in front of a Loblaw in downtown.
Unifor organized the Labor Day actions in response to a Sept. 1 letter to Dominion workers from Loblaw Atlantic Canada Vice President Mike Doucette. He claimed competition is fierce, business at Dominions across Newfoundland is down, and warns workers, “You need to know that this strike will not result in an improved offer.” Unifor Local 597’s bargaining committee wrote back the next day countering Doucette.
“Ultimately, when workers feel they’ve had enough, then they’re going to fight back. And that’s what we’re seeing here,” Chris MacDonald, assistant to Unifor’s national president,
told CBC Radio’s “St. John’s Morning Show.”
The bosses won a court-ordered injunction Aug. 29 directing Dominion workers to stop setting up picket lines to block trucks. Another court hearing is set for Sept. 18 where the union will try to get the injunction overturned.
The determined fight waged by Unifor Local 597 members against Dominion stores is beginning to get broader coverage in the big-business media across Canada. In a Sept. 5 opinion column in the Toronto Star, Jim Stanford writes about “the current scrappy strike by 1,400 Unifor members at Dominion grocery stores.”
Stanford reports that amid today’s coronavirus pandemic and efforts by bosses to boost profits, during the first half of 2020 “union coverage surged to almost 32% — the highest in 15 years.” He says this comes on top of membership hitting an all-time high of almost 5 million Canadian workers at the end of 2019, after years of decline.
Messages of support for the strike should be sent to Unifor Local 597 at firstname.lastname@example.org.