ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Parking lots at Dominion grocery stores in Newfoundland and Labrador were unusually deserted heading into Thanksgiving, except for a few striking employees holding their mittened hands over burn barrels.
Eleven Dominion stores across the province have been closed since late August, when more than 1,400 workers went on strike to demand better wages and more full-time positions.
The employees represented by Unifor have rejected a contract offer from Loblaw Companies Ltd., Dominion’s parent company, that included a pay raise of $1 an hour over the next three years.
In interviews with The Canadian Press over the holiday weekend, Dominion workers said they’re fighting not only for themselves, but for retail workers across the country.
The vote to strike came after Loblaws, Sobeys and other major grocery store chains eliminated a $2-an-hour pay increase offered during the height of the pandemic.
Danni Singleton, who's worked at Dominion in St. John’s for eight years, said the extra $2 an hour made a real difference.
“It was not having to worry about, ‘Oh jeez, can I pay my rent and my phone bill this month?” Singleton said.
Singleton said it’s been “tiring and stressful” being on the picket line for so long, and a lot of her co-workers with families are struggling to get by.
Paula Hennebury, who’s worked at Dominion for 25 years, said she also misses the customers.
“It’s a little sad that we’re not seeing our regular people. You get to know them as family,” said
“But we do get to see them here, they stop by and say hello. It’s a sad time of the year to be out, but we’re strong, we’re going to keep going as long as we have to.”
Hennebury said it's not always easy to hold the line, especially as the weather turns cold.
“We’re pushing through it. We could be inside doing what we love to do, but we gotta fight for the future of everybody else,” she said.
Singleton agrees with her colleague that it’s tough to be out in the empty parking lot on Thanksgiving. But as she talks, passing cars beep their horns in support. People have brought the workers pizza and fried chicken, she said, and a law firm donated $1,000, which they used to rent a warming shelter.
A spokeswoman for Loblaw defended the company's proposed contract, noting it was supported by union leadership.
"We put a deal in front of our colleagues that we believed to be fair and that addressed many of the topics they have raised including full-time roles, job security and wage increases," Catherine Thomas said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2020.
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Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press