Strike averted at Loblaws

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - Business -

TORONTO (CP) — Af­ter weeks of “round-the-clock” ne­go­ti­a­tions, Loblaws Co. Ltd. reached a ten­ta­tive deal with the union rep­re­sent­ing its 27,000 On­tario em­ploy­ees late Fri­day, avert­ing a strike that would have par­a­lyzed its stores ahead of the Thanks­giv­ing Day long week­end.

The terms of the col­lec­tive agree­ment were kept un­der wraps, but the United Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers union was unan­i­mously rec­om­mend­ing the deal to its mem­bers for rat­i­fi­ca­tion.

“This is a good col­lec­tive agree­ment for our mem­bers re­flect­ing all the dy­nam­ics that have been in­volved in th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions,” said Wayne Hanley, na­tional di­rec­tor of UFCW Canada, in a joint state­ment with other union of­fi­cials. “Rat­i­fi­ca­tion meet­ings are in the process of be­ing sched­uled over the com­ing days.”

Work­ers at the com­pany’s 144 On­tario stores, in­clud­ing Loblaws, Zehrs, Real Cana­dian Su­per­store and Forti­nos, have tech­ni­cally been in a le­gal strike po­si­tion since mid­night Fri­day af­ter de­liv­er­ing a re­sound­ing strike man­date of 95 per cent ear­lier this week.

“While our mem­bers at Forti­nos are cur­rently cov­ered un­der a con­tract not set to ex­pire un­til 2007, a ten­ta­tive agree­ment for those mem­bers has also been achieved in this set of ne­go­ti­a­tions,” Hanley added.

The con­tract talks, al­ready span­ning 18 months, have been “dif­fi­cult and com­plex,” added UFCW spokesper­son Michael For­man, who an­tic­i­pated the rat­i­fi­ca­tion meet­ings could be wrapped up by Oct. 15.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions have re­port­edly cen­tred on the com­pany’s push for wage cuts as it pre­pares for the ex­pected on­slaught of com­pe­ti­tion from WalMart su­per­centres in On­tario later this year. Loblaw spokesper­son Ge­off Wil­son de­clined fur­ther com­ment Fri­day.

The Toronto-based su­per­mar­ket gi­ant is one of the largest private-sec­tor em­ploy­ers in Canada, em­ploy­ing more than 135,000 full-time and part-time em­ploy­ees across the coun­try.

The com­pany, how­ever, has strug­gled with de­clin­ing prof­itabil­ity amid its de­layed sup­ply-chain re­struc­tur­ing pro­gram, while also ab­sorb­ing a slew of key man­age­ment changes in re­cent weeks.

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