Contract talks begin between Dominion employees and Loblaw

Contract negotiations between Dominion stores and their more than 1,300 workers in 11 locations across the province begin Monday, and a local union representative says recent cuts to full-time positions will be a key issue.

The previous contract between those employees and Loblaw Companies Limited, which runs the Dominion chain in Newfoundland and Labrador, just expired. Now, with part-time workers struggling and dozens of full-time jobs at stake, says Unifor Local 597 president Carolyn Wrice, the union hopes to save some of those jobs and build morale among employees.

"The work is there. It's just that they're distributing out the full-time work now, the duties, the responsibilities, on these part-time workers," said Wrice, who has worked at Dominion for 32 years.

"It's exploitation of part-time workers, is what they're doing."

Up to 70 full-time jobs could be lost in Dominion stores in the province, Wrice said, which leaves more than 80 per cent of the Dominion workers in the province relying on part-time jobs that pay lower wages, require them to pay their costs for the health-care plan, and don't offer consistent hours.

There are times when workers aren't scheduled and are instead expected to be available to be phoned in, she said.

"They're struggling to keep above drowning."

The result is a decrease in the quality of customer service at the stores, Wrice said, and poor morale for its workers.

The situation is especially hard to take when the company is making profits and the Westons, who own Loblaw, are one of the richest families in Canada, she said.

Concerns about self-checkout machines

When Loblaw announced the reduction in full-time positions, Unifor said the reliance on part-time workers to fill duties and roles that were previously full time is exploitative.

"For the most part what we're seeing is what was initially full-time employment, full-time jobs, those duties are now being spread out over part-time employees. And it's really been an ongoing kind of erosion of full-time work at Loblaw over any number of years," said Lana Payne, Unifor's Atlantic director at the time, in June when the company announced they aimed to cut 44 full-time positions.

They're distributing out the full-time work now, the duties, the responsibilities, on these part-time workers. - Carolyn Wrice

"We will not be making any comments through the media at this time," said Mark Boudreau, a spokesperson for Loblaw in Atlantic Canada, in a statement emailed to CBC News. "It is our practice not to negotiate in public and to focus our efforts on constructive conversations directly with Unifor."

Wrice wasn't prepared to make any predictions for the outcome of the contract negotiations, but said customers who want to support Dominion workers can do so by telling management how they feel — in particular, she said, by telling them they won't use the self-checkout machines that the union says are further reducing staff and wages.

"The onus is on us to force these companies to give us good customer service," she said.

"If not, people should think twice about shopping there."

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