Prospect of a sombre Christmas - One year of lock out at Temiscaming's Provigo supermarket

TEMISCAMING, QC, Dec. 14, 2013 /CNW Telbec/ - This evening 30 unionized employees of the Provigo grocery store in Temiscaming - who were locked out from their jobs a year ago tomorrow - prepare for another difficult Christmas by marking the anniversary with a community supper.

The employees of this border town in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region have been without a valid collective agreement since April 2012. There have been no negotiations since August 14, despite many requests by the Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs du Provigo Témiscaming - CSN to continue bargaining talks.

Aware of the social impact of the decision by the giant grocery chain Loblaw on the 2500 residents of Temiscaming, over the past year the CSN has organized a shuttle - operated by the union's locked-out members - to North Bay, Ontario, so that locals may do their grocery shopping more economically.

"It is unthinkable that a corporation worth billions could be so callous over its social responsibility to the town and toward its own employees," commented CSN Vice-President Denise Boucher during a press conference in Temiscaming today. "The local economic impact is enormous, but it appears that Loblaw's greed has no limit."

Refusal to negotiate

Except for a few minor points, Loblaw negotiators have had only one word to say to the union's reasonable principal demands: no. Loblaw refuses to create more full-time positions for long-time employees. In fact, more than 70% of the Temsicaming Provigo's employees work part-time, and this for a top hourly wage of $12.40.

"This bulldozer approach at the negotiating table does not reflect well on an employer with Loblaw's means," deplored Serge Fournier, president of the Fédération du commerce - CSN. "However, we are all aware of the tragic deaths of workers subcontracted by Loblaw in Bangladesh to manufacture clothes for the company's Joe Fresh brand. So we ask ourselves if these are the working conditions Loblaw would like to import to Quebec."

For the president of the Conseil central d'Abitibi-Témiscamingue-Nord-du-Québec, (CCATNQ-CSN), Donald Rheault, Loblaw must get back to work and return to the table with a real mandate to negotiate. The local economy is suffering from Loblaw's intransigence, despite an agreement between the CSN and Temiscaming Chamber of Commerce during public meetings to privilege local purchasing as much as possible.

"Loblaw has for a long time profited from owning the only grocery store in Temiscaming. It is astonishing that the company can show so much contempt, not only for its own employees, but also for its faithful customers. It is time that this powerful corporation recognizes that reasonable salaries and acceptable working conditions are an honourable exchange for the monopolistic profits it takes from the community of Temiscaming."

Conflicts without end

The lock out in Temsicaming is not the only labour conflict that Loblaw has provoked in the region. On June 10, workers at the Rouyn-Noranda Loblaws declared a legal strike over an unacceptable final contract offer. These workers have been without a collective agreement since November 1, 2012.

On June 27, the Quebec labour relations board ruled that Loblaw had interfered in union activities, negotiated in bad faith and infringed the workers' right to freedom of association. Among many other measures, the board ordered Loblaw to pay the union $5,000 in punitive damages.

To this dispute can be added the lock out that Loblaw imposed on Rouyn-Noranda's Maxi workers in August 2012.

A difficult Christmas

Cathy Pressault, the Temiscaming Provigo union president and an employee for 22 year, observed that, for a second Christmas in a row, her members' cupboards will be far from full.

"We know there is a cost to our determination to fight for respect from our employer," she said. "But we remain united in solidarity in our struggle with Loblaw. This employer can take away our income, but it has no right to our dignity. With the support of the CSN, we will overcome!"

SOURCE CSN

For further information:

Cathy Presseault, president, STT Provigo Témiscaming: 819-627-6032
Donald Rheault, president, Conseil central d'Abitibi-Témiscamingue-Nord-du-Québec: 819 444-7357
Lyle Stewart, CSN communications service: 514 796-2066