| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 09, 2013 10:35 am
Superstore workers in Alberta returned to work on Wednesday following a vote in favour of a new contract that includes pay raises and better benefits.
The vote ends a strike that began Sunday at Superstore and Liquorstore locations across the province.
Edmonton workers voted 85 per cent in favour of the deal, with 83 per cent votes cast in favour in Calgary and 91 per cent votes cast in favour in the rest of the province.
One of the main achievements of the new deal was that Loblaw would not be able to hire more lower-paid workers by cutting the work hours of existing employees, said Christine McMeckan, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.
"We've secured language that will allow us to police this, allow us to argue that more hours are going to the workers and we are going to police this vigorously," she said.
In coming years, employees can now expect wage increases and retroactive payments of up to $4. The average income of a Superstore employee is $14.50 per hour, she said.
The union also won the right to limit the amount of work managers and outside vendors do in the stores. Outside vendors have often stocked their own products on the shelves while managers were working in aisles that should have been staffed by regular employees, she said.
As part of an upgraded benefits plan, part time workers are now able to receive sick pay, she added, which will improve performance at the store level.
"People have been really feeling the pressure to come in sick and they shouldn't," she said. "They should be able to stay home, not lose out on pay and not make their customers sick."
The union had first put out a strike notice on Sept. 19 after union workers rejected an offer from Loblaw that proposed separate, lower wage scales for new employees.
In a previous interview with the Gazette, McMeckan said more than 75 per cent of Superstore employees are part-time workers who struggle to plan their monthly budgets. The company has cut hours in recent years, she said, despite relying heavily on its part-time workers.
As a result, many employees were cut off their benefit plans and worried about job security, she said. The union had also warned Loblaw that staffing issues create problems with customer service and affect food safety, as workers don't have the time to stock shelves and rotate products.
On Monday, the union had reached a tentative deal with Loblaw but workers remained on the picket line until the final votes were cast Tuesday evening.
The union represents 8,500 Superstore employees across Alberta. Almost 6,000 employees went on strike. Stores remained open, staffed by managers and about 100 employees who crossed the picket lines.
While the union reserves the right to give out fines to these workers, often referred to as scabs, McMeckan said no such action will be taken this time.
"Normally when a strike starts we give people about a week's time to change their mind if they cross the picket line," she said. "We just want to enjoy our victory and move past it all and hopefully these people will learn that if the next time we have to go into battle again they make the right decision."