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Sobeys shuts warehouse

Move in wake of Safeway purchase costs 172 jobs

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/2/2015 (908 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Another big shoe has dropped in the aftermath of Sobeys' acquisition of the rival Canada Safeway supermarket chain.

A Sobeys West spokeswoman confirmed Thursday Safeway's longtime warehouse/distribution centre at 1000 King Edward St. will be closing within the next year, throwing 172 employees out of work.

The Canada Safeway warehouse/distribution centre on King Edward Street will be closing within one year as part of the consolidation of local Safeway-Sobeys operations.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Canada Safeway warehouse/distribution centre on King Edward Street will be closing within one year as part of the consolidation of local Safeway-Sobeys operations.

The move is part of an ongoing rationalization and consolidation process launched in the wake of Sobeys acquiring 213 Safeway stores in Western Canada in June 2013.

That process also resulted in the closure last August of the Lucerne cheese and ice cream plants at the same location, which cost another 50 jobs, and the sale last year of 23 Safeway stores, including four in Winnipeg and one local Price Choppers outlet.

Sobeys spokeswoman Keri Scobie said the King Edward facility is the first distribution centre to be singled out for closure, but it won't be the last.

'Most shops are full right now. The "now hiring" signs are not all over the place like they were back 20 years ago'-- Unifor's Mark Armstrong

"At the moment we've got 18 (Sobeys and Safeway) retail support centres, as we call them, in Western Canada, which is obviously too many for us," Scobie said.

She said it's too soon to say how many others will close, or where those closures will be.

"We've been looking at this for a year already. So it's a long-term project, for sure."

Scobie said company officials looked at all four of its warehouse/distribution facilities in Winnipeg, which also include a Sobeys distribution centre at 1800 Inkster Blvd., a smaller Safeway freezer warehouse at 1285 Empress St. and a long-vacant Sobeys building on Church Avenue.

They decided to keep the freezer warehouse, sell the Church Avenue facility and close the 400,000-square-foot Safeway warehouse, shifting all that work to the 450,000-square-foot Sobeys centre on Inkster.

The main reason for choosing the Sobeys facility over the Safeway facility is the lease on the King Edward Street building will soon be expiring, Scobie added.

She noted with the pending increase in work volumes, the Inskster warehouse is going to need to hire more workers to complement its existing staff of 120. But she couldn't say how soon, or how many.

The president of the union that represents the Safeway warehouse workers -- Unifor, Local 468 -- said he was told they'll likely be nearly doubling the staff there. That could add an extra 80 to 100 people, Mark Armstrong added.

But he noted a different union -- United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 832 -- represents the workers at the Sobeys facility. So the Safeway workers won't automatically get first dibs on any new jobs, he added.

"They told us... they will take our members into consideration because they have done that work before, but (they will be) starting at the bottom," he said. "So they'll get to pick and choose who they will or won't hire."

Armstrong said the union isn't happy with that scenario and will be re-examining that whole issue in the coming months.

He said landing a job at the Sobeys warehouse is the Safeway workers' best hope because there aren't a lot of other warehouse jobs available in Winnipeg.

"Most shops are full right now. The 'now hiring' signs are not all over the place like they were back 20 years ago."

He noted about 20 of the 140 unionized workers at the Safeway warehouse have been there for more than 25 years and are between 60 and 65 years of age. Another 30 are between the ages of 50 and 55 and have been there 20 to 25 years.

Most are order selectors -- people who fill orders for different stores. The rest are shippers, receivers and forklift operators.

Scobie said the company hasn't worked out the details of when and how the work will be shifted from the Safeway warehouse to the Sobeys facility.

But Armstrong said the union was told it would be done in phases starting in July.

He said the Safeway workers realized one of the Winnipeg warehouses would likely be closing but obviously were hoping it wouldn't be theirs.

"At end of they day these members will lose their jobs, and it affects families, and it affects the community. Without a sustainable income and a good job, what does that do for them going out and purchasing stuff and... giving back to the community?" he added.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Murray McNeill.

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