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Close to 100 workers at Sobeys-owned Pete’s Frootique in Halifax have launched a strike on November 18th asking for fairer wages. Workers are currently paid $15 an hour, the provincial minimum wage in Nova Scotia. Sobeys’ last offer would only represent a five-cent hourly increase for most of them.
“All of us were insulted by that offer. It was probably the driving force behind 98% of us voting to reject it,” said Pete’s Frootique employee Nicholas Cook. “Most of us enjoy working here and that’s why we are fighting so hard to make a reasonable wage while working here.” Apart from wages, Cook stressed the union is also demanding the right to paid sick days. “We still have a pandemic going on. It’s easy to fall sick for a few days and not be able to afford rent.”
While at the picket line, North Star saw passersby showing support for the striking workers. “Public has been awesome, honestly. We’ve had people coming up and giving us coffee, donuts, just well wishes, lots of people honking their horns. It really helps us just to know the public is supporting us,” said Cook. “Our spirits our are high and we are really determined.”
Workers at Pete’s Frootique were working to unionize since 2019 and only finalized the vote later this year, officially forming a union affiliated to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2.
North Star spoke to Tyson Boyd, a worker involved in the union drive, and asked him if he had anything to say to workers elsewhere that would like to fight for better working conditions: “I know this probably doesn’t look like it, but I am having a great time out here,” he said while standing in freezing rain and wind.
“It sounds corny, but you have nothing to lose but your chains. When we win this fight, this is going to be a win for workers all over the city and all over the province. We are going to bring dignity back to these jobs. That’s the idea. Everybody’s got a turn to stand up, and this might be ours.”
Sobeys, the parent company of Pete’s Frootique, is a subsidy of Empire Company Limited, one of the country’s three largest supermarket monopolies, along with Metro and Loblaws. Major grocers have provoked the ire of ordinary Canadians as their annual profits keep increasing while most people struggle to make ends meet in the face of extreme inflation. In 2022, a Toronto Star investigation revealed the three companies were using inflation as a pretext to artificially boost profit margins.
Tyson told us about the reality of minimum wage workers in Halifax: “You gotta watch where every cent goes. You have to be especially careful. You don’t have any real buying power in the city. I don’t know what happens if my rent goes up; I don’t know where I’d go.”
Empire reported earnings of $261 million last quarter, up from $187.5 million for the same period last year. In 2022, the yearly compensation of Empire’s CEO Michael Medline was $8.7 million. Medline, a well-established Canadian oligarch, previously held numerous high-ranking executive positions, including as the CEO of Canadian Tire Corporation. When asked if he thought Medline’s wage was fair, Nicholas Cook responded, “Is he doing several hundreds times more work than one of us? I highly doubt it.”
In addition to his position at Empire, Medline joined the board of Scotiabank on September 1st of this year. As Canada’s most international bank with over 3000 branches worldwide, Scotiabank recently came under the scrutiny of human rights advocates and pacifist groups for being the largest foreign shareholder of Elbit systems, an Israeli arms manufacturing company which is the main provider of drones to Israel. The drones and military equipment which Elbit promotes as “battle tested” are currently being used to wage a genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.