Alberta Safeway workers vote in favour of strike

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Alberta Safeway employees have voted nearly 80 per cent in favour of going on strike.

Safeway employees in the province, who have been without a contract since 2017, can now legally go on strike with just 72 hours’ notice. But the union which represents about 7,000 Safeway employees at 75 stores across the province said it is still hopeful a strike can be averted and that negotiations with Sobeys — which owns the Safeway chain — can resume.

“If there was a strike, it would be the largest private sector strike in 20 years in Alberta,” said Thomas Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401. “I don’t believe our members are eager to go on strike. What they have asked us is to approach Sobeys and invite them to come back to the bargaining table.”

At issue for Safeway employees, Hesse said, is the grocery chain’s removal in mid-June of the $2-per-hour pay bump that workers were granted in March for taking on hazardous conditions during COVID-19. The fact that the “hero pay” program has been removed while the threat of the virus remains and in spite of Sobeys’ parent company reporting increased profits feels like a slap in the face to many employees, Hesse said.