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Drug store staff set to strike

STAFF AT the Shoppers Drug Mart store on Lakelse Ave. are set to strike first thing May 1.

That includes clerks and pharmacy technicians, who voted 96 per cent in favour of striking at their March 18 meeting – there were no strike plans at that time, but the vote gave the union negotiators a mandate to pursue a strike if talks broke off.

Talks broke off two weeks ago after the union tabled a position and rather than return with a counterproposal, the employer walked away from the bargaining table, said James Raposo, the collective bargaining director for the Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518, which represents 10 stores, including the one here on Lakelse Ave.

The employees' contract expired in July 2011 and the bargaining for the Terrace store began a little late as the union was negotiating for its employees in the Lower Mainland, he said.

“The key issue here is the employer does not want to follow the pattern of settlement,” said Raposo, referring to the local employees here getting the same deal as the Lower Mainland.

Part of the employer's reluctance to give employees here the same deal is that stores down south have been unionized for quite a while whereas the Terrace store organized in 2008 and had its first contract negotiation in 2009.

“My understanding is they see Terrace as being, and always have seen it, separate and standing alone from the rest of the Lower Mainland,” he said.

The first contact negotiated here focussed on monetary issues and didn't include health and welfare agreements or pensions, he said.

All are issues in the current contract negotiations.

While Raposo wouldn't go into the exact amount that the union is asking for here, he talked about what the Lower Mainland stores received.

First off, most employees in our store are clerks or pharmacy technicians, he said.

Clerks in the southern settlement got “a rather modest” settlement that landed in the range, depending on how long a worker had been there, of $1 to $1.05 over the three years, he said.

“...and the employer's not halfway there in Terrace,” he said.

Down south, pharmacy technicians got $1.20 over three years and here the employer is about three-quarters of the way there, he said.

In the Lower Mainland, a clerk's salary ranges from entry level of $10.40  to $16.70, he said.

For a pharmacy technician, the range is $10.65 to $18.75, he said.

Another key issue is the employer here does not want to make the new contract retroactive – the Lower Mainland settlement was reached last December and the employer agreed to pay retroactively back to April.

“The real issue is that people [here] feel they deserve to be treated as generously as the folks in the Lower Mainland were,” said Raposo.

Shoppers Drug Mart clerks and pharmacy technicians are on strike officially at 8 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, May 1.

That doesn't include the pharmacists – the store pharmacy will be open, but it will be closing at 6 p.m. daily, says a sign posted in the store on Lakelse Ave., – the store on Park Ave. isn't unionized and won't be on strike.

Mail is no longer being accepted at the Shoppers in-store post office.

Picket lines outside the store are expected but for what hours each day hasn't been decided yet, said Raposo.

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