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Loblaw faces labour battle out West

Possible strikes in Alberta as workers protest increased use of part-time staff

Loblaw has a fight on its hands on the Prairies as unionized Real Canadian Superstore workers in Edmonton and Calgary voted 97% in favour of a strike while staff in Saskatchewan voted 94% in support of a walkout.

Meanwhile, Loblaw workers in Manitoba will take a strike vote in September.

"Chances of a strike (in Edmonton and Calgary) are high," said Tom Hesse, chief negotiator for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.

The union was still waiting for results of a strike ballot in the "out of town" areas like Fort McMurray and Lethbridge, Hesse said.

The union represents almost 9,000 workers in about 35 stores in Alberta.

At issue is the company's reduction of hours and increase in part-time workers, which now number 80%, Hesse said.

"It doesn't matter if you're making $15 and hour or $20 if they keep cutting your hours," he said.

Loblaw spokesperson Julija Hunter wrote in an e-mail to Canadian Grocer: "We want to assure our customers and colleagues that we are committed to focusing on reaching a deal through negotiations – not through a strike."

She added: “We have a responsibility to our colleagues and to our business to make sure the collective agreement we negotiate allows us to remain competitive now and in the future. Negotiations are about reaching a deal that balances the business needs with the needs of the colleagues."

When asked if the company would keep stores open if employees walked off the job, Hunter said, "Loblaw Companies has contingency plans for situations that may impact our valued customers."

Meanwhile, talks between Loblaw and locked out and striking employees at three stores in Northern Quebec have stalled.

Workers at Provigo in Témiscaming rejected the company's "final offer" by 78% after an Aug 7 meeting.

READ: Workers at three Loblaw's stores in Northern Quebec locked out, striking

Union president Cathy Presseault said Loblaw has indicated it was willing to return to the bargaining table but has not yet set a date to resume negotiations.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux, which represents about 175 employees at three stores – Provigo in Témiscaming and Maxis and Loblaws in Rouyn-Noranda – met with Loblaw Aug. 13 to discuss the strike at the company's Loblaws store in Rouyn-Noranda but talks only lasted two hours and no further negotiations are scheduled, Presseault said.

Fourty-eight locked out workers at Maxi, also in Rouyn-Noranda, have not heard from the company since November, Presseault said, and picket lines are up at all three stores. At issue are wages and hours.

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