After planning to close as many as nine B.C. Safeway stores by May 5, Sobeys must now keep them open until July, according to a government-appointed labour mediator.
Sobeys first announced in January that it could close as many as 10 underperforming stores in total in the Lower Mainland (nine in May and one in July), but said it would convert five of those stores to the FreshCo discount banner if it could negotiate new terms and conditions in a collective agreement with the unions representing its employees.
Sobeys' CEO Michael Medline revealed plans to take the company’s discount banner into Western Canada late last year by converting 60 underperforming Safeway and Sobeys stores.
According to published reports (Sobeys did not respond to multiple requests from Canadian Grocer), Sobeys will close two stores in Vancouver, two in Burnaby and one in Coquitlam by the end of July.
The stores that could remain open under the FreschCo banner pending new collective agreements are Richmond (two locations), Surrey (two locations), and Mission.
Workers in the effected stores are represented by UFCW 1518 and UFCW 247.
With negotiations for a new collective agreement stalled, UFCW 1518 asked for a government appointed mediator in March. Earlier this month, British Columbia's Minister of Labour Harry Bains appointed Vince Ready as special officer in the ongoing dispute.
“Sobeys hasn’t moved on their initial concessionary demands,” said president Ivan Limpright, in a mid-March blog post explaining the union’s request for a mediator.
According to Limpright, Sobeys wants to eliminate accumulated time off, decrease wages and require co-pay for benefits.
“Sobeys just isn’t interested in bargaining,” Limpright said. “That’s why I’ve written the Minister of Labour, Harry Bains, for his assistance. He can appoint a special officer with broad powers to help move bargaining along… It’s an extraordinary step, but I believe this is the best way to commence meaningful dialogue, which has so far been absent in these negotiations,”
UFCW 247 meanwhile said Wednesday it was given no prior notice that the stores could remain open and a large number of its members has already made plans expecting the stores to close May 5.
“In what has already been a very difficult time for union members working at Safeway, Ready’s ruling only adds to the disruption members have already experienced since Safeway made their multiple store closure announcement in January.”