Dark clouds on the horizon but I see reason for optimism in grocery sector: Food economics professor
Striking Metro workers in the Greater Toronto Area are now picketing two of the grocers' distribution warehouses, a move the company said is preventing deliveries of fresh products to stores across the province.
Unifor Local 414 president Gord Currie and national president Lana Payne met workers at a secondary picket at a warehouse in Toronto's west end.
"If there is one group of workers who deserve respect, decent pay and decent work, it is grocery store workers in this country," Payne told reporters.
Workers in red Unifor ponchos yelled and waved flags in the drizzling rain, earning honks from some passing drivers.
Currie said the rain wouldn't dampen workers' spirits in the fourth week of their strike.
"How did these people go from being heroes when COVID was on to zeros?" he said.
More than 3,700 workers at 27 Metro stores across the GTA have been on strike since July 29 after rejecting a tentative agreement recommended by their bargaining committee.
Over the past week, the workers have stepped up their efforts against Metro beyond the 27 stores, said Payne.
"We have had increased picketing at a number of other stores not represented by Unifor," she said, in addition to the two warehouses Wednesday.
"In case this employer was not getting the message before today, they're getting it now."
Metro spokeswoman Marie-Claude Bacon called the move "unacceptable" and asked workers to come back to the bargaining table.
"Metro has a serious offer to present to the employees’ bargaining committee and the union; Metro will not be able to present an offer and resolve the labour conflict if the union refuses to bargain," she said in a statement.
The warehouses supply all Metro and Food Basics stores in Ontario and the pickets are preventing deliveries of fresh products to all of its stores, said Bacon.
"The distribution centres and the impacted stores are not on strike and their operations, which are critical, should not be interfered with," she said.
"No solution has ever emerged from such pressure tactics."
Asked whether the grocer is planning to seek an injunction against the secondary pickets, Bacon said it's looking into it.
Last week, Metro asked a government-appointed conciliation officer to step in and help the two sides resolve their dispute, but Unifor disagreed with the request, saying it’s waiting for Metro to bring a stronger wage offer to the table. Both the union and employer need to agree to have the officer step in.
Unifor has said that the workers are asking for a fair share of the company's rising profits, with many workers demanding their pandemic "hero pay" of $2 an hour be reinstated.
Metro has said the tentative agreement workers rejected included paid sick days for part-time workers, improvements in benefits and pensions and significant wage increases.
Metro workers had voted 100 per cent in favour of striking before bargaining even began. Unifor has said it hopes to use this agreement to get similar gains for upcoming negotiations with the major grocers over the next two years.
At the picket, Payne said the striking Metro employees aren't only fighting for themselves.
"They are fighting for every grocery store worker from the East Coast to the West Coast," she said.
"I want to be clear. There is something happening in this country right now," added Payne.
"These workers have set fire to the labour movement right now."