A month before Christmas, workers at the Loblaw’s Freeport distribution center are getting ready to be on stands instead of filling orders.
The national grocer this week gave layoff notices to 527 of the 534 union members at the northeast Calgary warehouse as the company prepares to lock them out.
The facility now sits empty, with anxiety and frustration growing at Teamsters Local 987 over the impending work stoppage, set to begin Friday at 11:59 p.m.
“The pressure increased. . . it’s an emotional time,” said John Taylor, business agent for Local 987 and spokesman for the negotiating committee. “There are a lot of worried people, scared people, there’s no doubt.”
He spent most of Thursday in meetings with union members who twice rejected the same offer from Loblaw, which included significant pay increases of 32 percent for full-time employees and 40 percent for part-timers. This will make their salary among the most competitive in the industry.
Taylor highlighted the situation of one member who has worked at the facility for over 12 years but has Tuesdays and Sundays off. Meanwhile, he said, junior members secure day shifts with weekends off.
He said this is the only warehouse the union represents where shifts are scheduled this way.
“It’s basically quality of life when it comes down to it. Someone has to work the shitty shifts, right? But usually it’s the junior people,” he said. “That’s a lot about it. It’s not about money.”
Teamsters says it has reached out to Loblaw several times this week in an attempt to restart negotiations, but has been told the company is not interested.
The union first rejected the deal on November 3, with members voting against it by 76 percent, and again on November 15 with 59.4 percent of the vote.
Taylor said it appears Loblaw is trying to wait out the union. The company could come back with a worse offer after the lockout begins, he added, citing as an example the 2004 Federated Co-op warehouse labor dispute during which workers went on strike for 13 weeks.
“There are no guarantees,” he said. “I’m trying to remain optimistic that the company may have a bit of a change of heart.”
Loblaw said Monday that inventory had been moved to other distribution centers to ensure stores could continue to serve customers without disruption.