Red River Co-op goes above and beyond for employees

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In 2014, Red River Co-op re-entered the grocery business when it purchased four food stores from a competitor. The co-operative met with its employees at the bargaining table to negotiate revisions to their collective agreement.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/03/2022 (264 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In 2014, Red River Co-op re-entered the grocery business when it purchased four food stores from a competitor. The co-operative met with its employees at the bargaining table to negotiate revisions to their collective agreement.

Vin Ablack, a grocery clerk at a Red River Co-op store in Winnipeg who served on the employee bargaining committee, recalls that the co-operative came forward with a surprise proposal to increase bereavement leave – something employees hadn’t even asked for. “The management team is genuinely interested in their people,” he says, “which is different from what I’ve experienced in the past, where it’s all about the bottom line.”

“We know our employees personally,” says Murray Dehn, vice-resident of human resources for Red River. “And when you have personal relationships with your people, it’s natural to care about them.”

Red River Co-op employees provide full service to their members, even in cold Winnipeg winters.

The locally and member-owned Red River Co-op comprises 47 retail outlets for petroleum, pharmacy services and groceries. It serves Winnipeg and its surrounding area, as well as Kenora and Dryden in Ontario.

Dehn notes that the co-operative places a big focus on foundational aspects of employment, through health and safety; diversity, equity and inclusion; training and advancement; and support of community. “We get those pieces taken care of so that the employee feels safe, welcome and valued.”

Red River Co-op’s diversity initiatives include a partnership with Ready, Willing and Able, which is designed to increase the labour force participation of people who are on the autism spectrum or live with an intellectual disability.

Ablack points out that Red River Co-op was the first retailer to recognize the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is not a statutory holiday in Manitoba. Employees received a paid day off to reflect on the harms of the past.

Health and safety are paramount at Red River Co-op. It partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to offer the “Not Myself Today” program, where employees are invited to mark how they’re feeling on a “mood board” in order to start conversations about mental health.

The co-operative also provides topics pertaining to mental wellness at regular staff “huddle” meetings. “We recognize that the mental health of our employees is being challenged during these difficult times,” says Dehn. “We are providing services to assist as best we can through CMHA and our employee and family assistance program.”

The creation of an employee-based diversity and inclusion committee has allowed ideas to be shared among every level of the co-op – from front-line workers to the executive team – to create a better environment for employees and customers. “A recent example,” says Dehn, “is a grocery store worker suggested that front-line staff wear buttons that state which languages other than English they speak so customers can feel comfortable conversing in their native language.”

Community engagement is critical for Red River Co-op. Recognizing that food banks’ needs had increased with COVID-19, it held Fuel Good Day last September, donating five cents from every litre of fuel sold to three organizations. Leftovers was the primary recipient, receiving more than $41,000 to rescue 35,000 pounds of close-dated, but still good to eat, food from grocery stores and restaurants to be given to people in need.

Concern for the community is reflected in the co-op’s employee actions, too. Staff recently took it upon themselves to ask the Bear Clan community patrol how they could help. As a result, they sold nearly 2,000 specially packaged hampers of hygiene products to customers for donation to Bear Clan.

Ablack is proud of the relationship that Red River Co-op employees have with their employer. “The attitude seems to be, let’s collaborate to make this company successful.”

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