In June 2014, Sobeys purchased 213 Safeway Canada stores, and shortly after announced plans to close approximately 50 of them. This has been covered thoroughly by the media. What has not been covered is the impact of the merger on union membership.
Safeway workers unionized under UFCW retained their bargaining rights when their stores converted to Sobeys, but stood to lose their rights if forced by closures to take jobs at other non-union grocery stores. Organizers are now focussed on working to spread union membership to all Sobeys location. Sobeys in some locations have been unionized, mostly in Quebec. The western provinces, as well as Ontario, and Atlantic Canada are rarely represented.
A 2008 letter to employees from the Sobeys Ontario president spelled out that the company prefers to be “union free.” President Craig Gilpin said employees can already call the company’s Fair Treatment and Ethics phone line if they have a problem, and that they should ask themselves why they would want “some stranger” speaking on their behalf instead.
But the group Organizations Unite for Respect (OUR), which maintains a website hosted by UFCW, says Sobeys ignores employee complaints, and fails to adhere to its workplace policies and employee handbook. OUR has been campaigning to provide unions for all Sobeys locations.
There was extensive media coverage of the takeover, as well as the possible cost of jobs and closing locations. However, very few of the articles have investigated the implications of moving from a unionized environment to a largely non-unionized environment. The coverage has paid scant attention to the ongoing heated debate between the company and union organizers seeking to establish an official union for all Sobeys locations.
Andy Georgiatus, “Sobey’s to Employees: We Prefer to Stay Union Free,” Dow Jones Newswires. Sept. 25, 2008. http://www.sherrardkuzz.com/pdf/Kuzz.Dow_Jones.Sobeys_To_Employees.pdf
Myron Love, “Canada Safeway union reach agreement on new contract,” Canadian Grocer, June 4, 2013.
UFCW, “Canada’s leading union committed to representing members impacted by Sobeys announcement,” June 30, 2014
Organizations United for Respect (OUR), “OUR Sobeys,” http://www.unitedforrespect.ca/index.php/about-our/our-sobeys
Student researcher: Dylan Bernhardt (University of Regina)
Faculty advisor: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)