SEIU Local 2: Nearly two hundred rally to support striking workers at Sobeys owned Pete’s Frootique in Halifax
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Nov. 20, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Nearly two hundred community members gathered in downtown Halifax yesterday outside Pete’s Frootique, a boutique grocery story owned by Sobeys, to express support for the grocer’s striking workers. The workers, members of the Service Employees International Union Local 2, commenced their strike on a wet and blistery Saturday. A conciliator declared an impasse in negotiations at the October 30th meetings, thereby cancelling the second conciliation date. The workers are striking for fair wages.
Nick Piovesan has worked at Pete’s Frootique produce department for nine years. “Our vote [to join the Union] was in May of last year and Sobeys appealed it, and delayed things at the labour board by nine months.” he began. “Then they wasted our time in bargaining and made us wait longer; offering 5 cents above minimum wage. We’re done with the delay tactics, and we’re done waiting. We’ve been trying to make things better for years.”
Pete’s Frootique pays employees $15 per hour, the provincial minimum wage. Sobey’s last offer would provide most employees with a mere five-cent per hour increase. The next tier would only a see a 20-cent increase. The two groups account for over 70% of the workers. There are close to 100 unionized workers at the store.
The cost of living in Halifax has been skyrocketing. According to a study published by the Center for Policy Alternativesi, the increase in the cost of living in Nova Scotia is “unprecedented,” and the living wage “for two adults working full-time (35 hours a week) to support two children” is $26.50 per hour.
“Workers have been struggling to provide for themselves for a long time,” said Christine Saulnier, the director of the CCPA-Nova Scotia. “From the employer’s perspective, there is no good time to raise wages.”
Saulnier said one of the clearest illustrations of the inequality we face is in the pay of CEOs. “The richest CEOs made 243 times more than the average worker in 2021 — an all-time high,” she continued. “That means that by 9:43 a.m. on January 3, 2023, we estimate Canada’s 100 best-paid CEOs had already made $58,800, the entire year’s pay for the average worker in Canada.”
Michael Medline, the president and CEO of Sobeys parent company Empire, took home over $8.6 million in his compensation last year.ii
Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress also expressed her support for the workers. “This corporation that has been called to Parliament Hill on the regular to explain their huge price and profit increases,” she said. “At the same time, their workers can’t afford to shop in the very store they work in.”
Last year, an investigation by the Toronto Star found that “Canada’s three largest supermarket chains are actually making money from inflation.” “A deep dive into the financial statements … reveals that these grocers are raising prices more than they have to and making Canadians pay for it.”iii
Pete’s Frootique employees voted overwhelmingly to join SEIU Local 2 in May 2022. They were forced to wait for close to a year for the results of the vote as Sobeys challenged the rights of several workers to be part of the Union at the Labour Board. In March 2023 Sobeys dropped their challenge recognizing the rights of those workers. A year and a half after the vote to join SEIU and more than six months after the ballots were finally counted, workers continue to wait for a fair offer with decent wages.
Their courageous fight and willingness to take on a powerful employer has inspired other workers in Halifax to organize and stand up for fairness.
Tour and retail workers at the nearby Alexander Keith’s Brewery joined SEIU last year and recently ratified their first Collective Agreement. Joel Hughes Mackay, one of the tour workers, spoke at yesterday’s rally. “It was through your fight at Petes that I started organizing at my workplace,” he said. “We were inspired by Pete’s workers, and we are here today to support you.”
Cailen Pygott works at Java Blend, a well-known café in Halifax about a 30-minute walk from Pete’s. “I’m here as a supporter, and ally and a friend of these brave workers,” he said. Pygott said he and his co-workers voted to join the SEIU nearly half a year ago but have also been facing delays because of an uncooperative employer and a labour board that is handcuffed with some of the worst legislation for workers in the country.
Gary Burhill, MLA for Halifax Chebucto, told those gathered he was there to express the admiration and respect of the Nova Scotia NDP for the workers and their Union. “It requires courage and character to have become to only unionized Sobeys in mainland Nova Scotia,” he said. “Every single person deserves the right to make enough at work to support themselves and be able to make a significant contribution to the living of their family.” “We have every confidence that you are going to win,” he concluded.
Danny Cavanaugh, the President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, also addressed the strikers. “We represent 70,000 unionized workers in the province of Nova Scotia,” he said. “And let me tell you, we’ve got your back!”
Workers were back on the picket lines this morning.
For information about the workers’ efforts to win a fair contract from Sobey’s, owners of Pete’s Frootique, visit www.PetesOnStrike.ca.
SEIU Local 2 represents 20,000 workers in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta. We are proud members of the largest, fastest growing, and most dynamic union in North America.
Media Contact: Diego Mendez | 416-476-7762 | [email protected]
iii https://www.thestar.com/podcasts/this-matters/how-canada-s-top-three-supermarket-chains-are-making-mone y-from-inflation/article_f810246b-37d4-5c16-9a3d-f9013b3b771a.html
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