THUNDER BAY, Ontario -- A Canadian union leader said union locals in Canada and the United States would be "much more on their guard" in negotiations with Safeway after the company recently closed three stores here that had been the subject of an eight-month labor strike.
"What they've done to the people in Thunder Bay is not going to be forgotten," said Michael J. Fraser, director, Canadian United Food and Commercial Workers.
Fraser said he believes that Steve Burd, chairman and chief executive officer, Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., took a hard line with Local 175 in Thunder Bay to teach the workers a lesson.
"In this case, the company didn't want a settlement," Fraser said. "They just wanted to make an example of these people and punish them."
Safeway maintains that the stores were closed for economic reasons after the strike had kept them shuttered for so long.
Elsewhere in Canada, Safeway has been in negotiations with the UFCW in Alberta for a contract covering 81 stores that expired in March 2001. Another 16 Safeways in Saskatchewan also are in the early stages of negotiations. Bargaining for another contract covering 77 stores in British Columbia is expected to begin by early next year.
Toby Oswald-Felker, vice president, public affairs, Safeway Canada, said she didn't think the negotiations in those other provinces would be affected by what happened in Thunder Bay.
"The issues are different in each of those places," she said. "The contracts are different."
Fraser said other union members would show their "resolve in their future negotiations. They might not allow the same type of tactics to be used against them that were used in Thunder Bay. In Thunder Bay, you're only talking about three stores. In British Columbia and Alberta, you're talking about thousands of workers, and the economic impact on Safeway could be much greater in those situations."
Meanwhile, Oswald-Felker said the three Thunder Bay stores, which employed 450 workers, could reopen if the government orders a revote. Several members of Local 175 have filed a complaint with the Canadian Ministry of Labour alleging that they were intimidated by the union into voting against Safeway's last offer, and Oswald-Felker said the company believes the union misrepresented the contract to the workers.
However, she said Safeway "would not be willing to wait until fall, and we're getting closer to that."
The company already has taken down its signage and removed its inventory from the stores.
The union said it has no reason to hold a revote, and it denies Safeway's and the workers' allegations of intimidation and misrepresentation.
"We maintain that there was no intimidation by the union," said Wayne Hanley, president, UFCW Local 175. "In fact, the company threatening to move out of town and close its stores was more intimidating than the union holding a rally."