The union representing about 3,000 workers at 20 Superstore and Extra Food locations across the province reached a tentative agreement with Loblaw Thursday afternoon, averting a strike that would have started Oct. 6.
The agreement came after intense negotiations this week, including a round-the-clock session Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
"I've had about six hours' sleep since Monday," United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 president Jeff Traeger said late Thursday afternoon. "But we're feeling pretty good."
While Manitoba's Loblaw workers averted a strike about 32 hours before their contract was to expire, their union brethren in Saskatchewan and Alberta are still in a bitter fight with the company.
The Manitoba deal came the same day union locals in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta ran full-page ads in newspapers across the country, asking Loblaw "to do the right thing."
The ad, written as a letter to company CEO Galen Weston, Jr. said while the company regularly wins "best employer" awards, its workers are suffering.
"... In current labour negotiations you're telling us to roll our wage system back by 30 to 40 per cent. How can working people make any sort of life for themselves with demands like that?" it said.
'I've had about six hours' sleep since Monday... but we're feeling pretty good'
Bargaining sessions in Saskatchewan and Alberta are scheduled this week. In Alberta, where the company has close to 9,000 employees, a union spokeswoman said the company's first offer -- the Alberta workers' contract expired in August -- will be voted on this weekend. But she said the offer was "grossly shy of the mark."
Traeger said no details of the Manitoba deal will be released -- not even to rank-and-file members -- possibly until Oct. 20 when a ratification vote will be held. But if Saskatchewan and Alberta locals reach agreements before next Sunday, the Manitoba ratification vote will be held Oct. 6.
That's because the UFCW is engaging in what they call "unity bargaining" with locals in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Traeger said because of the leverage the unions could create and the "threat of picket lines from the Ontario border to the B.C. border," representatives from each of the locals sit in on each others' bargaining sessions trying to ensure concessions won in one region can also be achieved in others.
However, when the Manitoba members ratify their contract -- which the union officials are endorsing -- there will not be any labour disruption here.
Ratification votes will be held in Winnipeg, Selkirk, Steinbach, Dauphin, Brandon, Swan River and The Pas.
On Thursday, before the handshake on a tentative agreement in Winnipeg, a Loblaw spokeswoman said in an email exchange with the Free Press, "The negotiations continue and we want to assure our customers and colleagues that we are committed to focusing on reaching a deal through negotiations -- not through a strike."
Traeger said trying to co-ordinate negotiations across Western Canada is an effort to strengthen workers position against one of the largest private-sector employers in the country.
"If we try to take them on piecemeal, it's a pretty tough task to do so," he said. "They have almost unlimited resources, it seems. That was proven when they wrote a cheque for $12.4 billion to buy Shoppers Drug Mart."
Traeger said Loblaw's purchase of Shoppers announced in July impacted the labour negotiations in Manitoba.
"After they just wrote a cheque for $12.4 billion, it was tough for them to come in here and plead poverty and to their credit they didn't," Traeger said. "They just bargained hard for their interests the same way we bargained for ours."