Saturday, June 19, 2010

Local owners of Extra Foods speak out on recent store closure

The most interesting item of Friday's Daily News wasn't found in the news articles, sports section or classifieds, instead it was a page 17 full page ad from the owners of the now closed Extra Foods location in the city.

Stating that there were many rumours and misleading information about the labour issues that evolved at his store, Darcy Koch provided his interpretation of the chain of events that played out over the last number of months as the discussions over the bid to change the local store to a No Frills blue print. A quest that set the two sides at loggerheads with no resolution in view and one which has changed the dynamic of the city's grocery store options.

Those discussions and the lack of an agreement, ultimately led to the decision from management that the only course of action to follow was the closure of the store, a decision that has since seen members of the UFCW hold a storefront vigil in the form of a picket line, similar in nature to a situation that evolved last year in Maple Ridge, when an Extra Foods location in that community attempted to convert to No Frills, a development which seems to have foreshadowed events in Prince Rupert this year .

We outlined the developments of the labour troubles locally from the beginning of the negotiation trail, from those first rumblings of a change of direction of the store's business plan, with the findings of various labour board hearings and on through updates from the union side of the table as to where things stood.

November 30, 2009-- No Frills or No Jobs?
February 22, 2010-- Extra Foods and UFCW talks break  down
April 9, 2010-- Podunk Below the Masthead (Daily News section)  
May 24, 2010-- Grocery store disputes spread across the country
June 2, 2010--  Closing time for Extra Foods
June 16-- Podunk Below the Masthead (CFTK  section)

For most of that time through the discussion, the ownership group and the larger corporate message was seldom heard, now with the store closed and with what seems as little change anticipated in that status, the owners outline that they will be likely have to leave the city and look for work.

But before they do they offer up their review of the time line to a store closure, highlighting in bold black type the key points they wanted to stress.

Talking points that UFCW will no doubt wish to address to its membership as well as the local population, which has seen yet another local business shut its doors and more Rupertites added to the growing list of the unemployment numbers, adding to a rather worrisome trend of late in the city.  

A Message to 
Our Valued Customers of Extra Foods 

We owned the Extra Foods store here in Prince Rupert. The store has closed. There have been a lot of rumours and misleading information about what happened and we want to tell our customers why we closed and correct the wrong information.

The store lost money for a long time. Our wholesale supplier supported us but the losses could not go on forever. We had one last chance to fix the problem or the store would close. We thought if we converted the store to a No Frills concept we could be successful and continue the business. No Frills is a concept which has been successful in Western Canada and gave losing stores an opportunity to become profitable and continue in business. No Frills could have saved all our jobs and offered our customers a better choice for shopping at competitive prices.

We have 2 different Locals of the same union (UFCW) that represented our employees. We presented the offer to the meat/deli employees represented by UFCW Local 247 and the union voted our offer and the employees unanimously accepted the terms of conversion. Then, we took the same offer to a different Local of the same union, Local 1518, and this Local rejected our proposal and would not let the employees vote on the offer. We tried very hard to force a vote but in the end Local 1518 won and the employee vote never took place. We were left with no options and the store closed. During this time Local 1518 was telling our employees the store would not close. But it did close.

 After we gave notice of the store closing we found out that Local 1518 thought our lease expired in 3-4 years and as a result we would not close. In fact, they were wrong as the lease expires in year 2010. Once Local 1518 found out they made this terrible mistake, it did not reveal this to its members or try to have the vote save the store. Had they voted in favour of the No Frills deal it would have guaranteed all the employees a job and they would have gotten a lump sum conversion premium if they stayed or not. In addition, had they voted in favour of the No Frills deal at the time it was presented in November 2009, it would have resulted in more than 2/3 of employees receiving and increase in pay. The problem is this local of UFCW, unlike many other locals of UFCW in Canada, would not support the No Frills conversion and the collective agreement in any store. Thus, the store employees have lost their jobs.

No doubt the union will have their version of events. But they cannot deny they would not allow their Prince Rupert members to decide their future for themselves and as a result the store is closed. The union representative got back on a plane to Vancouver and went to his next assignment. We live in the community and we must live with the consequences. We liked our business and the employees. But, that was not enough to convince Local 1518 that its members should decide their own future. We will likely have to leave Prince Rupert to find work.

Thank you for shopping at Extra Foods.

Mr and Mrs. D'Arcy Koch

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