Union, store owner are resuming talks

Shoppers Drug Mart and the employee union are set to return to the negotiating table today.

These Shoppers Drug Mart employees at the Lakelse Ave. location have been on strike since May 1. But talks resume today.

Terrace Shoppers Drug Mart and its employees’ union are set to return to the bargaining table today.

Employees at the Lakelse location, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1518, have been on strike for over two months.

The two sides arranged to resume talks following a recent move by Shoppers Drug Mart owner Barb Rae.

Rae posted a letter in the front window of the store on June 26 saying she was ready to return to the bargaining table.

“The store continues to lose business,” the letter states. “I am willing to return to the bargaining table without any preconditions.”

Job action began on May 1 following a break down in the contract negotiation process.

The workers’ contract expired in July 2011. The members have been asking for a contract similar to agreements  in  Lower Mainland Shoppers Drug Marts. In Metro Vancouver, contract settlements included wage increases with retroactive pay  and contract language improvements.

Clerks in the south 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, James Raposo, the collective bargaining director for the Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518, said in April.

Pharmacy technicians got $1.20 over three years, he said.

In the Lower Mainland, a clerk’s salary ranges from entry level of $10.40  to $16.70 and for a pharmacy technician the range is $10.65 to $18.75, he said.

The union says talks broke off mid-April when the owner offered a proposal that fell short of the terms reached at stores in southern B.C. and did not address specific concerns brought up by the Terrace members.

In an earlier letter, dated June 1, Rae suggested the union members consider an agreement similar to the contract agreed to in Quesnel.

Although there are not specific details as to what is in the Quesnel agreement, employees there voted 95 per cent in favour of accepting it this March.

It expires in 2015, and includes signing bonuses, wage increases over the last two years of the collective agreement, a merged payscale, and improvements to rules around scheduling, according to a notice on the union’s website.

But over the past two months, the union and its members have said they are firm in their resolve to negotiate a contract like in the Lower Mainland.

“This is not about the Quesnel agreement,” said union representative Kim Novak. “Our focus is on establishing an agreement that meets the needs of the employees in Terrace, and that is a contract that is comparable to the one in the Lower Mainland.”

The Terrace store unionized in 2008 and had its first contract negotiation in 2009.

Clerks and pharmacy technicians voted 96 per cent in favour of striking if need be at a March 18 meeting.