13 October 2011

A message from Forest Lawn for workers everywhere

The workers at Sobeys' Forest Lawn supermarket, the only unionized Sobeys in Calgary, are currently on strike. The pickets have been on duty for two weeks. Doug Smith of the United Food and Commercial Workers union says the action resulted from the company's refusal to bargain in good faith. He claims they have been bargaining for 22 months and the union is prepared to continue negotiations, but Sobeys is refusing to return to the bargaining table. For its part, the company says it is willing to negotiate but wants to reach a contract that is fair to everyone and reflects the deal non-union employees have at other Sobeys locations.

We can make a reasonable guess what the "deal the non-union employees have" consists of—whatever the company decides to unilaterally impose. Without the union hovering in the background, no doubt it would be even less than it is now. And now the company plans on reducing all its employees to the lowest common denominator.

The lesson for workers here is an old one. Without unions, they have no leverage. They are at the mercy of management. There may be fewer unions these days, but just their presence alone remains a major incentive for companies to treat their workers well. They are the only democracy in the workplace, the only guarantee that workers voices will be heard.

I wish the United Food and Commercial Workers members at Sobeys Forest Lawn store all the luck in the world, for their sake, for the sake of their non-union colleagues at other Sobeys outlets, and for the sake of non-union grocery store employees throughout the city.

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