Metro filing labour complaint against Unifor amid ongoing strike, warehouse picket

TORONTO — Metro Inc. is filing an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board against Unifor over an ongoing strike, arguing it isn't bargaining in good faith, a spokeswoman for the grocer said in a statement.

"The union has refused to return to the bargaining table for the purpose of allowing Metro to present an offer in an effort to resolve the current labour conflict, despite repeated invitations on Metro’s part," said Marie-Claude Bacon.

The move Wednesday afternoon comes after striking Metro workers started picketing two of the grocers' distribution warehouses in the morning, a move the company said is preventing deliveries of fresh products to Metro and Food Basics stores across the province.

More than 3,700 workers at 27 Metro stores across the GTA have been on strike since July 29 after rejecting a tentative agreement recommended by their bargaining committee.

Unifor national president Lana Payne confirmed in a statement that the union is aware of the complaint.

"The union is disappointed that Metro has not come back to the bargaining table with a wage offer that ensures its frontline grocery workers can afford food, rent and to support their families," she said.

Payne and Unifor Local 414 president Gord Currie met workers at a secondary picket at a warehouse in Toronto's west end.

"If there is one group of workers who deserve respect, decent pay and decent work, it is grocery store workers in this country," Payne told reporters.

Workers in red Unifor ponchos chanted and waved flags in the drizzling rain, earning honks from some passing drivers.

Currie said the rain wouldn't dampen workers' spirits in the fourth week of their strike.

"How did these people go from being heroes when COVID was on to zeros?" he said.

Over the past week, the workers have stepped up their efforts against Metro beyond the 27 stores, said Payne.

"We have had increased picketing at a number of other stores not represented by Unifor," she said, in addition to the two warehouses Wednesday.

"In case this employer was not getting the message before today, they're getting it now."

In an earlier statement, Bacon called the move "unacceptable."

"Metro has a serious offer to present to the employees’ bargaining committee and the union; Metro will not be able to present an offer and resolve the labour conflict if the union refuses to bargain," she said.

"The union has breached its duty to bargain in good faith and to make every reasonable effort to negotiate a collective agreement."

The distribution centres and impacted stores are not on strike and their operations should not be interfered with, she said.

"No solution has ever emerged from such pressure tactics."

Asked whether the grocer is planning to seek an injunction against the secondary pickets, Bacon said it's looking into it.

Last week, Metro asked a government-appointed conciliation officer to step in and help the two sides resolve their dispute, but Unifor disagreed with the request, saying it’s waiting for Metro to bring a stronger wage offer to the table. Both the union and employer need to agree to have the officer step in.

Unifor has said that the workers are asking for a fair share of the company's rising profits, with many workers demanding their pandemic "hero pay" of $2 an hour be reinstated.

Metro has said the tentative agreement workers rejected included paid sick days for part-time workers, improvements in benefits and pensions and significant wage increases.

Metro workers had voted 100 per cent in favour of striking before bargaining even began. Unifor has said it hopes to use this agreement to get similar gains for upcoming negotiations with the major grocers over the next two years.

At the picket, Payne said the striking Metro employees aren't only fighting for themselves.

"They are fighting for every grocery store worker from the East Coast to the West Coast," she said.

"I want to be clear. There is something happening in this country right now," added Payne.

"These workers have set fire to the labour movement right now."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2023.

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Rosa Saba, The Canadian Press