Metro grocery store workers in the Greater Toronto Area are gearing up to strike as early as tonight, as bargaining continues between the retailer and some 3,700 employees.
Employees at 27 Metro stores in the GTA could strike as early as 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.
“This is going to go down to the wire,” said Lana Payne, national president of Unifor, the union representing Metro workers.
“(It’s) very, very crucial in these last 12 hours to try and push very hard for our members. And that’s what our teams are doing right now,” she said.
Progress has been made since negotiations began June 26, said Payne, but the union’s priorities remain the same at the table: improving pay and quality of jobs, stabilizing work hours, and improving access to health and dental benefits.
Unifor called a strike vote before bargaining began, garnering 100 per cent support for the job action if a deal cannot be reached.
“The 100 per cent strike vote showed the employer that our members were serious,” said Payne.
Metro spokesperson Stephanie Bonk said in an email that the company is “committed to working with the union to reach an agreement that meets the needs of our employees while enabling the company to have the flexibility it needs to meet and exceed our customers’ needs and expectations.”
It’s a far different round of bargaining than last time, which was before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Payne.
“They have worked through a pandemic, they’re working through an affordability crisis,” she said of the Metro workers. “A lot has changed.”
The latest inflation data released Tuesday showed that while the overall Consumer Price Index slowed to 2.8 per cent in June, a far cry from more than eight per cent a year ago, grocery prices rose 9.1 per cent year-over-year.
Food and housing, the two biggest costs for workers, have become bigger and bigger parts of monthly spending for them, said Payne — the prior as food costs continue to rise, and the latter as the Bank of Canada raises interest rates to try and fight inflation.
“We’ve even had many of our own full-time members saying, ‘We can’t even afford to shop at our own stores,’” she said.
The bargaining committee has recognized that “this is a moment in time,” said Payne, amid more than a year of high inflation, rising interest rates and profits in the grocery sector.
“The workers are saying very clearly, look, we need to we need to be able to live and to have a good job here. And that’s what we expect.”
This round of bargaining also comes ahead of a two-year stretch of negotiations for more than a dozen collective agreements between grocers and Unifor members. Payne said the union is trying to pattern its bargaining within the sector, with the hopes that a good first contract will help set standards for the contracts that follow.
“But that won’t mean the others will be easy,” she said.
“We’re saying enough is enough,” said Payne. “This has to stop, we have to start improving these jobs. And that’s been our goal at Metro and it will be our goal throughout grocery store bargaining.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2023.
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The Canadian Press