Raging Grannies hit Loblaws


Raging Grannies challenge Loblaws' brutal abuse of aging

employees as benefits cancelled and pay cut to minimum wage

By Shannon Lee Mannion
True North Perspective
A store manager confronts the Ottawa Raging Grannies and demands that they leave. They refuse and the police are called.  

Hands were frozen to their signs and noses ran streams of ice but the Ottawa Raging Grannies were undaunted in positioning themselves at the entrance of the Loblaws located on Isabella Street in central Ottawa in order to raise awareness about employees' concerns.

And although main-stream media has been slow to pick up on this story, preliminary investigation is showing that appendices added to an existent contract are wreaking havoc, especially with long-term employees.

Employees cannot choose to work weekends. Everyone has to put in at least one Sunday shift each month. This is problematical for people with religious considerations, with child-care concerns and with transportation issues. And if someone refuses to work weekends or calls in sick for Sunday shifts, they run the risk of being dismissed. There is no shift premium for working weekends, neither is there any overtime pay, just time off in lieu of. Some employees are having difficulty getting enough hours so that they qualify for benefits they've had prior to changes in the contract.

One employee at a Loblaws in Ottawa's east end suggests that what happened is that full-timers were forced into agreeing to take a $5.00 per hour cut in pay, what management called a buy-back, or leave. Part-timers were given hefty signing bonuses to stay but get they get minimum wage. 

The buy-back option is like a pernicious Wheel of Fortune game where you buy a letter, or in this case, buy into one of five options, and end up selling-out your life.

Scheduling is one of the biggest changes but with staff at some stores halved over the past several months, there are no doubt other reasons why people would commit financial suicide by taking a buy-back that reduces their wages by up to 25 per cent.

Of course, some who are 55 years old or older have taken Option 4, early retirement, while others have chosen Option 3, a buy-out, taking what money is offered, a taxable amount, and hoping to find a job elsewhere.

For all the glossy brochures spread around Loblaws' lunch rooms by the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union, Local 1000A over the past months, brochures that talk about building a brighter future with Loblaws as they convert to Loblaw Great Food stores, there is little that is bright and shiny to employees who know that things were better before the dropping of “s” from Loblaws and all the talk about conversion.

It's not a brighter future when people are over-worked and under-paid. Dave, in produce, commented recently when asked why there were so many empty shelves. "There aren't enough bodies to do the work." Yes, the trucks loaded with food are arriving and unloading but there isn't the staff to stock the shelves. He was working when the Raging Grannies staged a demonstration in front of his store. Although he could not go outside to see them, he said, “I bless them for being here.”

In extemporaneous interviewing of numerous Loblaws' employees from several stores, the following comments  show what is on their minds.

I won't go into details but, my work situation has become unbelievable. Let me just say I'm filing a grievance against at least one manager. I myself am just holding on by a thread. 

It seems it's very cut and dry to them. I don't actually think they see us as people of significance.  There is a court case that the union's lawyers have gone in front of a judge for. They are asking for a stay on all the exemptions until they are heard by an arbitrator. The Sunday issue is being listened to by another judge. The last time I spoke with the union's lawyers, there was a three-week recess so both sides could do their fact-finding.

I am worried for my safety. The customers are tuning on one another (because of long line-ups). Last week, the police were called. I was freaked-out.

And perhaps the most telling:

After 24 years of working for Loblaws  I now make $4.00 less an hour and to qualify for some benefits I almost have to work full-time hours. I can't work weekends because my transportation to and from work is a bus that doesn't  run on weekends. But I'm digging in my heels and not quitting. There are co-workers who have viewed me as the villain and are mad at me as opposed to being mad at the company. These are people I've personally worked with for 24 years. Not only has the new Loblaws taken my rate of pay, benefits and hours I'm able to work, it has taken friendships and turned people against each other. 

Indeed, Loblaws' profits are up by millions in the third quarter (http://business.financialpost.com/2011/11/16/grocery-day-loblaw-metro-report-quarterly-earnings/) and yet the corporation shows no noblesse oblige, as if the rich privilege they've earned on the backs of countless thousands of employees entails them to no responsibility at all.

For shame.


If you want to read what employees from other stores in Ontario are feeling, please go to: http://www.ratemyemployer.ca/employer/employer.aspx?empID=558&l=en

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