STRIKING Shoppers Drug Mart employees from the Lakelse Ave. location were using banners this week to highlight their campaign for a new contract.

Terrace Shoppers Drug Mart strike continues

Union, owner exchange letters as each side digs in

IT LOOKS as if the strike which has shut down the Shoppers Drug Mart location on Lakelse Ave. for nearly three months is going to continue for some time.

A series of letters exchanged by Shoppers associate owner Barb Rea and United Food and Commercial Workers Union counsel Chris Buchanan appears to have hardened each side.

This came after Rea posted a letter to the Lakelse store window on July 13 alleging the union negotiated in bad faith, saying it had accepted an offer on the first day of a renewed attempt to negotiate a contract two weeks ago, and then changed its demands on the second day of negotiations. She also appealed to employees to consider their lost customers, as well as their lost wages.

This sparked the union to release a letter of its own, which was passed out by striking members and union executives on Monday.

“Unfortunately, when she put out that last letter she upset committee members and the membership,” said Frank Pozzobon, the secretary-treasurer of Local 1518 of the union on Monday.

A response letter by union legal counsel Chris Buchanan invited the owner to bring any complaints before the Labour Relations Board, the administrative body that deals with complaints during bargaining sessions.

But Rea, a letter posted on the Shoppers Drug Mart window yesterday, states she will not be going to the Labour Relations Board at this time.

“The union bargaining committee is quite capable of resolving my concerns at the bargaining table,” the letter states. “As persons of goodwill, we ought to be able to reach a mutually acceptable settlement to this dispute.”

This was followed late yesterday afternoon by another union letter in which Buchanan said it won’t be pursuing Rea’s suggestion.

“The union takes your [earlier] letter, and your decision not to go to the [Labour Relations] Board, as an admission that, despite the contents of the earlier letter, the union and its committee has not bargained in bad faith,” wrote Buchanan.

“Therefore, given the employer’s admission, the union will not be pursuing the matter of your letter further,” he concluded.

Pozzobon had earlier said the strike could end if both parties returned to the bargaining table.

He was in town Monday to meet with local union representatives and to take part in leafletting with the striking Shoppers Drug Mart workers at both the Lakelse location and the Shoppers Drug Mart on Park which is also owned by Rea but which is not being struck.

The Lakelse Shoppers Drug Mart employees have been on strike since spring after talks first broke down over wages and benefits.

“The only way to resolve this is face to face,” said Pozzobon, noting he and the union are ready to negotiate in good faith. “There is a basis for resolution. If the employer wants to call us to return to the table, we will.”

If a meeting happens in good faith, the strike “could resolve itself in a couple of weeks at the latest,” he said.

On July 6, following two days of mediated negotiations between Rea, and the union, 85 per cent of the employee membership rejected the offer put forward by Rea, stating it did not go far enough towards meeting employee needs.

In a statement, the union said the contract offered a signing bonus, but did not offer wage increases to all employees, nor did it include a pension plan as is available at other unionized Shoppers Drug Marts.

The union also wants contract language outlining matters such as how many days an employee can work in a row, and how many hours there should be in between shifts, according to Pozzobon.

The union has so far not released how many of its members took part in the vote which resulted in the 85 per cent rejection.

The exchange of letters took place as the union increased its visibility at the Shoppers Drug Mart location on Park.

Striking Lakelse Ave. employees on Monday not only handed out leaflets but unfurled a banner asking people to have their prescriptions elsewhere.