Thousands of unionized Metro grocery workers walked off the job Saturday in what is the latest in a series of strike actions taken across the country in the past year.
Some 3,700 members of Unifor Local 414 went on strike, described as the largest in the union’s history and affecting 27 Metro locations in the Greater Toronto Area.
It comes as unionized workers at British Columbia’s ports rejected a tentative agreement late Friday night and as Manitoba Liquor Mart employees stayed off the job Saturday in their continued strike action.
“Interest rates, inflation, CEO profits soaring, profits in terms of what corporations are making soaring, while our members are struggling to get by,” Unifor national president Lana Payne said Saturday as Metro workers held their strike.
Although Unifor endorsed a deal with Metro, with Payne describing it as the “best agreement in decades,” the membership did not support it.
Payne added that it is not enough for the workers to live on or support their families, with 70 per cent of jobs part-time and average pay between $16 and $17 an hour.
She said that the workers, who put their lives on the line during the height of COVID-19 and later saw their pandemic pay cut, deserve a share of the money that they helped Metro earn.
Gord Currie, president of Unifor Local 414, added that some have resorted to food banks.
Canada’s Competition Bureau released a study in June that found the three largest grocery companies in the country — Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro — reported more than $100 billion in sales collectively and $3.6 billion in profits last year.
“Working people are fighting back everywhere, from the ports of Vancouver to grocery store workers here to Teamsters workers in the United States. This is not just happening here at Metro stores. It is the moment that we’re in and, you know, you can only push it so long where corporations are doing so well, the CEOs are doing so well and workers are getting crumbs. That is not going to work anymore,” Payne said.
A statement from Metro Ontario, a subsidiary of Metro, said it was “extremely disappointed” that a strike occurred despite the union endorsing the deal.
“The company has been negotiating with the union for the past few weeks and reached a fair and equitable agreement that meets the needs of our employees and our customers while ensuring that Metro remains competitive,” the statement said.
“The settlement provided significant increases for employees in all four years of the agreement, as well as pension and benefits improvements for all employees, including part-time employees.”
Larry Savage, a labour studies professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., told CTV National News that workers have a heightened sense of their own worth coming out of the pandemic.
“I think there’s a lot of anger and resentment as a result of the pandemic and the high cost of living,” he said.
“Grocery store workers, for example, literally put their lives on the line for their employers and for society more generally during the pandemic and now lots of them can’t even afford to pay their rent or their utility bills. So I think there’s a sense out there that workers are fed up and they’re demanding more and they’re using the right to strike to do that.”
Last month, about 1,800 striking Halifax-area education support workers returned to work after ratifying their latest contract.
More than 155,000 unionized federal public servants went on strike earlier this year, including 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency employees.
Last year, thousands of education support workers in Ontario also went on strike.
“I think there will be lots of labour disruption in the future, lots of labour militancy going into the future, until we see some of these companies redistribute their profits back into their workforces,” Savage said.
With files from The Canadian Press