After having an expired contract for three years and a grueling year at the bargaining table, 97 per cent of Superstore workers voted in late September to take strike action if necessary. This comes at a time when Superstore is making record profits nearly two years into the pandemic. The company has repeatedly stalled negotiations with the Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and only offered claw backs on hourly premiums, benefits, and going back on their guarantee of adding more full-time jobs.
When the issue of striking came up the company made a small concession of offering a 3.5 per cent wage increase. The average Superstore employee makes the minimum wage of $15/hr, 3.5 percent of which is pocket change. Recent spikes in inflation make this paltry increase completely moot. The union rightfully rejected this insult, especially after last year when the company withdrew the $2 an hour pandemic pay which was more than they are offering now.
Should they go on strike, Superstore workers could face the obstacle of Alberta’s draconian legislation. Bill 1, which targets protests in the name of defending “essential infrastructure”, could enable the Government of Alberta to prohibit workers from picketing in front of stores. There is also some speculation that the government will prohibit striking at all, as providing groceries to the Alberta public could be called an essential service. However this shouldn’t scare the union from striking when they have the backing of their members. Defying this repression could give an impetus to the whole labour movement in Alberta to fight for better pay, benefits and safer working conditions. There is no doubt that the nurses who are close to striking would support Superstore workers. Some may worry about public opinion; however, who is the “public” but the broad masses of the working class who face similar conditions as the Superstore workers? The bosses at Superstore are counting on the union to buckle under these pressures before a strike even happens. But it is standing up and facing these pressures that will force the bosses to think twice before trying to wrestle over fair pay with the workers, the creators of their immense wealth. The labour movement takes inspiration from the Superstore workers who dare say through their actions: “You will not treat us like servants and you will not bully us!”