‘We do not ask for much’
Striking Pete’s Frootique workers stand up to Sobeys
BILL SPURR THE CHRONICLE HERALD email@example.com @chronicleherald
Sometimes the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement is complex; other times, the employer offers a wage increase of five cents an hour.
For a full-time worker at Pete’s Frootique and Fine Foods in downtown Halifax, that wage hike over the course of a week would amount to almost one-third the cost of a large smoothie at the Pete’s juice bar.
“I think they shot themselves a little bit in the foot there,” Tina Oh, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, said of the initial offer from Sobeys to striking workers.
“The five-cent offer that Sobeys has given to them is a slap in the face. That’s the tone of the conversation right now. They’ve delayed these workers every step of the way through their unionizing fight. When they filed their application to certify, they held on to those ballots for over a year as they tried get a lot of bargaining unit members out of the union.
"What we see with these billion-dollar corporations is they know that union busting is deeply unpopular, especially in this day and age, and they’re very smart about it. What we have to understand is Sobeys is playing a game here, a game called delay tactics.”
Pete’s workers rallied in front of the store Sunday afternoon, many of them holding signs showing a nickel. Their current hourly wage is $15, which is minimum wage.
“Sobeys has built a mountain of profit on the backs of working people,” a speaker said. “At the same time, they’re gouging every one of us.”
Workers told of working while hurting from injuries they suffered on the job, because they had no choice.
“For our labour, we do not ask for much,” said Nick Cook, a produce worker for nine years. “Adequate is enough.”
Some of the workers on strike started working at Pete’s as recently as three weeks ago, others have been there for as long as 15 years. The strikers told of one man in his 70s who retired while still earning minimum wage.
Terry Armour, describing himself as a “produce nerd,” said it was a lovely day to stand up to corporate greed.
“Fruits and vegetables mean a lot to me, but I have bills to pay,” he said. “To work through the pandemic and be expected to be grateful for an offer of five cents an hour is obscene.”
Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, promised the support of the 70,000 workers he represents in the province, and made a veiled threat.
“Let me say to the workers here today, we’ve got your back, we’ll stand behind you, we’ll make sure that we’re there to resolve this strike and we’ll kick Sobeys' arse all over Nova Scotia until they come to the table to bargain like they should,” Cavanagh said.
Oh said there has been no movement since contract talks broke down, and there are no talks scheduled.
“This is one of the most important strikes of this time, across the country," Oh said. "I think everyone needs to be paying attention.
“The reason it’s so important, not only is it SEIU’S first strike here in Nova Scotia, but we have never seen minimum-wage workers go on strike to do the courageous thing, to ask for better for themselves and their loved ones.”