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Just as workers entered their seventh week on strike in a labour dispute which saw information pickets at Sobey's-owned grocery stores across the country, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2 secured a collective agreement on behalf of Pete's Frootique workers in Halifax. The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) includes key gains such as just-cause protection, seniority rights, paid sick days, and wage increases.
This new agreement was reached just one day before SEIU Local 2 was set to expand labour actions across the country. SEIU Local 2 members and their supporters had planned on moving from information pickets to hard pickets in front of Sobey's-owned grocery stores in key cities throughout Canada.
"Sobey’s was attempting to hold workers to a collective agreement they had signed at a recently unionized Lawtons store in Halifax," Tom Galivan, Director of Organizing and Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU Local 2, told North Star. "The Lawtons collective agreement contained the five-cent increase that became a focal point of the strike and also contained a performance-based (rather than seniority-based) progression through the wage grid."
"As a result of the strike and solidarity actions that took place in over a dozen other Canadian cities, workers at Pete’s were able to push past that settlement pattern and achieve better wage increases and a seniority-based progression through the wage grid."
Many Pete's Frootique workers consider the gains achieved in the new collective agreement as a significant win, with cost-of-living concerns being central throughout the labour dispute. Prior to the strike, Pete's Frootique workers were only making the provincial minimum wage of $15 an hour. To make matters worse, management's initial offer was an "insultingly low" five-cent increase.
The new collective agreement will see most striking employees making $15.60 come April, along with provisions such as three paid sick days for full-time employees, yearly wage increases, as well as seniority and just cause protections.
While the new collective agreement represents a hard-fought victory for Pete's Frootique workers, some workers expressed that the new agreement fell short. "Workers were hoping for a better increase and justifiably so," said Galivan. "The cost of living in Halifax has skyrocketed, and companies like Sobeys are making record profits."
According to an annual report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives–Nova Scotia, the living wage in Halifax was $23.50 per hour in 2022 and $26.50 in 2023. These rates are calculated based on how much a household with two full-time workers must make to both meet their necessities and enjoy a decent quality of life.
"The new CBA has some language to maintain relativity with the minimum wage. This provides some protection against the cost of living as the provincial minimum wage is indexed to the cost of living. However, there is still much work to be done," said Galivan.
"While a seven-week strike (that included national solidarity actions) was enough to push past the terms of the local Lawtons agreement, workers at one store don't have the bargaining power to change the settlement patterns in the grocery industry as a whole," said Galivan. "The grocery sector is plagued by low wages and poor collective agreement terms despite having relatively high union density. To change this, the union movement must change its approach."
"Sobeys has over 120,000 employees and hundreds of collective agreements. However, the unions never take on Sobeys as a united movement. If all of the unions representing Sobey's workers formed a common front and bargained as a single voice, we could make significant strides for workers. SEIU Local 2 would happily join such a coalition."