Alberta Safeway union votes to strike as contract talks stall, hero pay removed

Safeway workers in Alberta have voted in favour of a strike, according to the union that represents them.

Seventy-nine per cent of the workers voted yes in a recent strike vote, according to numbers on the union website.

The UFCW Local 401 union decided to hold the vote following stalemate contract talks, despite the recent boom in the essential-services grocery sector.

“The only way Sobeys will come to the table and bargain a fair contract is if they know we have the heart to fight them if necessary, even if it’s not something we don’t want to do. They need to know we’re strong,” Thomas Hesse, the local union president, said during a telephone town hall last week.

Sobeys, which owns Safeway, ended its hero pay program on June 13, which gave employees an extra $2 an hour, although it had also reported increased profits to shareholders through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Union officials said the voter turnout for the strike vote was massive.

“It is a testament not only to employee and public distaste for the kind of greed we’ve seen from major Canadian grocers, but also to our union’s massive member engagement and transparency initiatives,” said Chris O’Halloran, the local union’s lead negotiator and executive director.

The “yes” vote does not mean employees will immediately begin striking. The union hopes to use it as a bargaining tool to move negotiations forward.

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The parent company of Sobeys, Empire Company Ltd., is headquartered in Stellarton, N.S., and bought more than 200 Safeway stores in Western Canada in 2013. The company also has more than 50 non-unionized Sobeys stores in Alberta.

–With files from The Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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