After a tentative agreement appeared to ward off an impending strike, Unifor workers voted against the deal and walked off the job Saturday at 27 Metro supermarkets in the greater Toronto area.
Unifor Local 414, which represents 3,700 Metro grocery employees, went on strike effective 12:01 a.m. on Saturday at Ontario stores in Toronto, Brantford, Orangeville, Milton, Oakville, Brampton, North York, Islington, Willowdale, Mississauga, Etobicoke, Newmarket and Scarborough, with picket lines forming at each location at 8 a.m. Unifor national and local leaders and members held a press conference at the Metro supermarket at 3003 Danforth Ave. in Toronto on Saturday morning shortly after the work stoppage got under way.
Striking employees included Unifor members serving as full- or part-time store clerks in all store departments, including cashiers, plus department managers, pharmacy and Starbucks staff.
Montreal-based Metro said just before midnight on Friday—when Unifor Local 414 members declined to ratify the tentative pact and decided to strike—that the 27 stores will be closed for the duration of the work stoppage, though pharmacies at those locations will remain open.
“Metro Ontario Inc., a subsidiary of Metro Inc., is extremely disappointed that its unionized employees at 27 Metro locations across the greater Toronto area (GTA) rejected the agreement reached last week and decided to go on strike effective July 29, even though the union bargaining committee unanimously recommended the agreement to its members,” Metro said in a statement late Friday.
“The company has been negotiating with the union for the past few weeks and reached a fair and equitable agreement that meets the needs of our employees and our customers while ensuring that Metro remains competitive,” the food and drug retailer stated. “The settlement provided significant increases for employees in all four years of the agreement, as well as pension and benefits improvements for all employees, including part-time employees.”
Unifor 414’s negotiating team and Metro had announced a preliminary accord shortly after midnight on July 19. The union had set a deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday to go on strike if talks didn't result in an agreement. Ratification votes were held from July 23 to 28, but Unifor said terms of the proposed contract fell short of members’ expectations.
“This decision to go on strike comes after years of these workers being nickel-and-dimed while facing increased precarity and eroded job quality. It comes after having pandemic pay stripped away. It comes at a time of record profits and soaring CEO compensation. It comes at a time when life has become simply unaffordable for so many of these workers who risked their health and safety during the pandemic,” according to Lana Payne, national president for Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, representing 315,000 workers overall. “We brought the tentative agreement to our members because it contained considerable gains, but our members are clear that it simply isn’t enough.”
Unifor Local 414 on June 20 had voted unanimously to authorize a strike against Metro. The move came prior to contract talks, which were scheduled to begin June 26.
“You know the system is broken when frontline workers can’t afford food, rent or gas,” Unifor Local 414 President Gord Currie said in a statement on Friday. “Frontline grocery workers at Metro deserve the utmost respect, especially after working tirelessly through the pandemic.”
Saturday’s strike marks the second walkout by Unifor Local 414-represented Metro employees in less than a year-and-a-half after a tentative deal was rejected. In early April 2022, Metro settled a nearly weeklong strike by more than 900 full-time workers at its Etobicoke, Ontario, distribution center when Unifor Local 414 members ratified a new four-and-a-half-year contract. Warehouse employees represented by the local had opted to strike after voting down a preliminary agreement between the union and Metro.
Unifor represents more than 11,000 frontline grocery store workers at Canada’s “big three” grocery retailers—Loblaw Cos., Sobeys Inc./Empire Co. Ltd. and Metro Inc.—in Ontario, Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia and Quebec. At the end of May, the union reported that over the next two years it would be in talks to renew more than a dozen contracts at the three retailers, starting with Metro.
Overall, Metro’s retail network includes 975 food stores under the Metro, Metro Plus, Super C, Food Basics, Adonis, Marché Richelieu and Première Moisson banners, as well as 645 drugstores and pharmacies under the Jean Coutu, Brunet, Metro Pharmacy and Food Basics Pharmacy banners in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick.
“We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience they may experience in the circumstances,” Metro stated about the store closures during the strike, “and invite them to visit one of our many other Metro or Food Basics stores in the GTA.”