Workers at largest Asian grocer seeking union certification

7/18/2012

Employees at T&T Supermarket, Canada's largest Asian grocery chain, will vote on Monday about forming a union at one of the chain’s distribution centres.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail, if it passes, it would be the first time T&T staff would be unionized.

T&T is owned by Loblaw Cos. Ltd., and the United Food and Commercial Workers union represents many workers in Loblaw-owned stores across Canada–but none in T&T's supermarkets or warehouses.

The workers are employed at a T&T Supermarket warehouse in Scarborough, Ont., according to The Huffington Post.

On Monday, the United Food and Commercial Workers filed an application for certification with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The workers are primarily women who have recently immigrated to Canada from China and are seeking unionization in an attempt to tie wages more closely to seniority and improve scheduling issues, according to the article.

Among issues, the workers are seeking better pay, benefits and scheduling.

In the current highly competitive retail environment, retailers are staying open longer hours to respond to shopper demands.

Kevin Shimmin, a UFCW union representative, said in the article that  in the T&T case, one of the union’s biggest issues is its complaint about 39 hours of short shifts spread over six days a week. "You're basically working quite short shifts every day, but being tied down for those six days," he said in The Huffington Post.

As well, when it comes to wages, currently, workers start at minimum hourly wage of $10.25 and are eligible for a 5-cent an hour increase after one year, 10 cents after two years and 15 cents after three years, but raises are not applied evenly, according to Shimmin.

"The big problem is that it's largely done on favouritism. So even if you've been there for three years, you may still be earning minimum wage," he told The Huffington Post.

Cindy Lee, chief executive at T&T, said in an e-mail to the Globe and Mail: "T&T competes in an extremely competitive retail landscape made up of many family-owned, non-unionized Asian grocery stores and within this context we know we offer fair and competitive compensation packages. Our non-union workplace has afforded us the essential flexibility required to grow and to ensure we remain competitive."

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