Saskatoon Co-op files unfair labour practice complaints as strike continues

Saskatoon Co-op has filed two unfair labour practice complaints against the union representing around 900 employees currently on strike, one of which also names a former union representative who started a petition to unseat its board of directors.

The first complaint alleges that both United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1400 and Craig Thebaud used the petition as “an improper bad faith tactic” to undermine bargaining and “interfere” with the co-operative’s governance structure.

“It is deeply concerning that the Saskatoon Co-op would choose to waste members’ money on this undemocratic and frivolous court proceeding,” Thebaud, who speaks for Saskatoon Co-op Members For The Fair Treatment Of Employees, wrote in an email.

Saskatoon Co-op CEO Grant Wicks disagreed, saying Thebaud’s clear connection to the union — which has endorsed the petition — makes the document a “clear example of bargaining in bad faith” and an unfair labour practice.

“It’s clearly an attempt to circumvent the collective bargaining process, attack my board of directors and replace them with union puppets so that they can force co-op management into accepting the union’s demands,” Wicks said.

Saskatoon Co-op employees walk a picket line on 33rd Street West on Nov. 5.

UFCW spokesman Rod Gillies said the union — which shared the petition on social media and endorsed it publicly — did not instigate the campaign, and has “no connection” with Thebaud, who is exercising his right as a co-op member.

“It’s a non-issue,” Gillies said.

The second complaint accuses the union of engaging in “unlawful strike activity” because UFCW Local 1400 is party to a separate application before the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board involving a co-op store with different union representation.

Gillies said his reaction to that complaint was one of “disappointment but not surprise,” and that the co-operative appears to be using “litigation rather than negotiation” to end the strike, which began on Nov. 1.

Pointing to a Saskatoon Co-op news release that stated employees “decided to exercise their right to strike,” he questioned why the co-operative changed its view. He added that UFCW Local 1400 ceased to be party to the earlier application last month.

“Everybody wants the employees off the picket line, including us, and that (happens) through bargaining,” he said.

Wicks could not immediately be reached for comment regarding the second complaint, which came to light late Friday afternoon. Both complaints contain allegations that have not been tested before the Labour Relations Board.

Saskatoon Co-op employees representing around 20 grocery stores, gas stations and hardware stores in Saskatoon, Martensville, Warman and Colonsay went on strike last week after 65 per cent of them voted against management’s final offer.

The dispute hinges on a proposed second pay grid for new hires, which would lower their maximum potential earnings.

Management insists that the new structure is necessary for financial sustainability, as its current wages are as much as 30 per cent higher than those paid by competitors, while UFCW Local 1400 maintains the proposal is unfair to new and future employees.

Earlier this week, UFCW Local 1400 ended a 36-day Moose Jaw Co-op strike by agreeing to a deal preserving a similar wage structure.

Management and the union are not set to resume negotiations until Nov. 29.

amacpherson@postmedia.com
twitter.com/macphersona

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