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Shoppers Drug Mart strike is unusual, says expert

Elaine Pigeau stands in solidarity with the striking Shoppers Drug Mart workers.  - Anna Killen
Elaine Pigeau stands in solidarity with the striking Shoppers Drug Mart workers.
— image credit: Anna Killen

“Get back to the table and talk.”

This was the message from a member of the British Columbia Nurses’ Union (BCNU) regional executive who joined the picket line at Shoppers Drug Mart to mark their 80th day of job action on July 19.

Elaine Pigeau, a lobby coordinator with the BCNU, wanted to show her support for the striking workers of Shoppers Drug Mart.

The Lakelse Shoppers Drug Mart has been on strike since May 1. Workers are asking for wage increases, as well as benefits and contract language improvements.

“Eighty days is a long time,” said Pigeau, donning a yellow placard. “These are members of our community. It’s pretty hard to pay bills and put food on the table on strike pay.”

The strike is long by B.C. standards, said Labour Relations Board representative Guy Pocklington.

“The vast majority of collective agreement bargainings are done with no strike or lockout at all,” he said. “[This strike is] certainly much longer than strikes in B.C. usually last. They typically last a couple of weeks.”

The latest round of talks between associate owner Barb Rea and the union, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518, held earlier this month, under the supervision of mediator Grant McArthur, ended with the employee membership rejecting the owner’s offer by a vote of 85 per cent.

The union has so far not released how many of its members took part in the vote which resulted in the rejection.

Following the vote, union tactics escalated, with a slew of anti-Shoppers radio ads and union leaders visiting Terrace to meet with members and  jumpstart a leafletting campaign at the Park Ave. Shoppers Drug Mart, which Rea also owns and is not unionized.

A series of letters was also exchanged between Rea and UFCW counsel Chris Buchanan, with Rea saying the union mislead her during negotiations and the union firing back saying she should take her complaint to the labour board. Rea backed down from her accusations, saying in a letter she believed her concerns could be worked out at the bargaining table. To which the union responded by saying they were ready to return to the table immediately.

The way the strike has been playing out here in Terrace, specifically the letter writing campaigns, is unusual, said Mark Leier, chair of the history department at Simon Fraser University. Leier is considered an expert on labour movements in B.C.

“It doesn’t seem like the best technique if you’re serious about bargaining,” he said.

“Lots of industry employers like to stall everything as long as possible,” he said. “In the case of a large corporation, they might be getting support from the mother company.”

It is unclear what role Shoppers Drug Mart’s corporate division is playing in the strike, if any.

Calls to the corporate office were not returned.

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