Monday, November 30, 2009

No frills or no jobs?

The latest skirmish in the ever ongoing evolution of the grocery store industry appears to have been joined over at the Rupert Square Shopping Centre, where Extra Foods appears to be the subject of a re-branding plan and with it a change in the dynamic of the collective agreement between management and the employees.

The UFCW Local 1518 website offers up the union side of the debate where union officials have apparently filed a list of their concerns with the Labour Relations Board over the way that Extra Foods management has approached the issue of the store re-branding.

Among their key concerns, what they describe as a number of captive audience meetings in which some members of the store's staff were called into the store office and told the store would close if they did not accept the employer’s concession-laden last offer.

Another item of interest to the union has been the employer’s failure to provide financial information to confirm their statements that the store is incurring losses and is not economically viable. Because Extra Foods has not provided that statement, the UFCW filed a complaint with the LRB.

The latest message on the union website offers up some of the background on the concessions requested by the company, included in them are the redefinition of the wages of employment, where according to the union, the substantial majority of hours worked in a No Frills store would be for wage rates of $9.00 to a maximum $11.90 per hour, with no benefits.

The changeover from Extra Foods to a No Frills would apparently mean that only a small number of employees, if any, would be eligible to earn $15.75 per hour, and with substantially inferior and inadequate benefits, or no benefits at all.

The union website advisory outlines how Loblaws' (the parent company for Extra Foods) again asked the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to conduct a vote on what is called their last offer, which contains the employer’s demand for the concession-laden No Frills contract.

Because of the number of complaints that the UFCW has filed at the LRB, they are asking the labour board to keep the ballot box sealed pending the hearing of their complaints filed with the LRB.

The full review from the union perspective can be found from the UFCW Website here.

The Loblaws/ Westfair Foods website, offers little if any information about the vision statements or corporate definition of the No Frills brand, the most you'll find is a version of their online flyer on pricing.
The website does however feature a number of banners outlining their success as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers, Greater Toronto's Top Employers and as one of the Financial Post's Ten Best Companies to Work For for 2010, the information provided on the website outlining their credentials for such honours, a wide ranging bit of praise which most likely offers up some talking points over at the UFCW

The changing nature of the grocery business seems to be an ongoing matter of pitting management and union against each other with a number of hot button issues. The most recent local example of the tension in the grocery business was the attempt by Overwaitea to introduce the PriceSmart model to Prince Rupert, which offered up a number of less than ideal working conditions to the mix, as we outlined on the blog back in 2006 and April of 2008.

The grocery business at times seems to be stepping back in time to the days of the 1930's where union/management battles seemed to be a blood sport, it's interesting to note that as our economies continue on through recessionary times, that some of the old models of labour negotiations of that depression era seem to be making a comeback.

The local debate has been introduced as a discussion topic on the local message board hackingthemainframe, offering up an interesting glimpse at some of the attitudes between employment, employers and what or what isn't the best course of action for the company or for someone in the kind of situation as the employees of Extra Foods find themselves in today.

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