'People can't make ends meet': Dominion staff say they are ready to strike

Unionized workers in this province's Dominion stores could soon end up on the picket line, but it is a fight they say they're ready for — and one they feel is worth it. 

With the ongoing labour dispute between Unifor and Dominion — whose parent company is Loblaw Companies Ltd. — waiting for talks with a conciliator, unionized workers are speaking out about working conditions they call exploitative.

Hugh Alcock, 20, a part-time employee who has worked for Dominion for the past five years, traced the dispute to an announcement by Dominion in the summer that it was getting rid of dozens of full-time positions.

"Ever since the cut there's been a lot more responsibility to part-time workers because Dominion are exploiting them 100 per cent and I don't think that's fair," he said.

For Alcock, the company is almost like a family business. He says his mom, brother and sister have also worked for Dominion, contributing 28 years of work altogether.

Alcock used to love working at Dominion and envisioned climbing the ranks of the company, he said, but that has since changed because of what he's seeing at work.

Ted Dillon/CBC

"I know people who work at Dominion who can't afford to buy what they sell. I've heard stories about people who have to go to food banks to feed their children," he said.

"A business as powerful as Dominion … should be able to take care of their employees."

Increased workload

Raelene Cull, 48, a produce manager with more than three decades with the grocery store chain, is also upset by the cuts.

She went from being a produce manager in one department to taking over three other departments in September. 

"There isn't very much more to give. I mean, I'm pretty well worn out and it's just so frustrating," she said.

"It's just — it's too much for just one person."

Looking back at her start with the company, Cull said at the time she thought it was a great, high-paying job. 

She was only 18 then, but she decided to stick around and make it a career. 

No more careers at Dominion: longtime worker

That career has been along for the ride as she got married, raised two kids and became a grandmother. But she says the days of making a career at Dominion are done.

"People can't make ends meet. I mean, we have staff down there now that is finding it really difficult," she said.

"They've gone from full-time to part-time and they can't pay their cellphone bill, they're struggling to buy groceries, you know. They're struggling to pay their rent because rent is so high."

Speaking about the possibility of ending up on the picket line, Cull said she thinks the employees are ready to be out.

"We can't put up with this any longer. We need full-time positions," she said.

Ted Dillon/CBC

As for the state of the labour dispute, a Unifor representative said the goal is to get back to the table. 

"We're going back and forth and trying to get together as soon as possible to resume bargaining with the assistance of the government mediator," said Chris MacDonald, Unifor's assistant to the national president. 

He says it's about finding a balance between full- and part-time work; this year, the company cut about 20 per cent of its full-time jobs in the 11 stores across the province.

MacDonald said he wants the public to understand that 45 per cent of the bargaining unit make less than $12 per hour. 

'Below the poverty line'

"It's a difficult time as they convert all these jobs from full-time to part-time, and the part-time jobs are the ones where they're the lowest wage and are operating below the poverty line," he said.

On Monday, Unifor sent an update to its members saying the earliest possible dates for getting back to the table are Jan. 8 and 9.

The letter said the delay is not preferred by the bargaining committee, but is beyond their control.

It also said the bargaining committee "has yet to discuss monetary issues, as it is imperative that we resolve the issues surrounding the employer's plan to cut full-time jobs. Dominion has yet to budge on this plan and that is unacceptable."

The union is concerned up to 80 full-time jobs could be lost as more part-time positions are added.

Loblaw did not respond to a request for comment for this article. A spokesperson previously said they wouldn't be making any comments in the media.

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