UNION TO VOTE ON FINAL OFFER IN CANADA LABOR DISPUTE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The fate of a collective bargaining contract between Canada Safeway, Overwaitea Food Group and two United Food and Commercial Workers locals will be decided this week when union members vote on the companies' final offer.The chains filed for the last-offer vote May 30, when negotiations failed and a strike-lockout affecting 86 Safeway stores, 49 Overwaitea stores and

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The fate of a collective bargaining contract between Canada Safeway, Overwaitea Food Group and two United Food and Commercial Workers locals will be decided this week when union members vote on the companies' final offer.

The chains filed for the last-offer vote May 30, when negotiations failed and a strike-lockout affecting 86 Safeway stores, 49 Overwaitea stores and 14,000 employees was called in British Columbia.

Members of UFCW locals 2000 and 1518 -- which represent meat, deli and seafood employees plus cashiers, grocery and bakery workers -- are required to vote on the proposal once a request is filed. The vote, to be conducted by Canada's Labor Relations Board, is scheduled for June 10, 11 and 12 throughout British Columbia, according to Leif Hansen, president of local 2000.

If a majority of union members accepts the terms, the employees will return to work and stores will reopen, according to Debra Lambert, corporate director of public affairs for Safeway, the Oakland, Calif.-based parent of Canada Safeway, Calgary, Alberta. If it is turned down, the lockout will continue, Hansen said. The vote stems from months of stalled talks and unsuccessful mediation between the unions, Canada Safeway and Overwaitea, Langley, British Columbia.

When mediation failed two weeks ago, the unions approved a strike notice for Vancouver Safeway stores. "Our strike notice was only for the immediate Vancouver area. It did not cover the rest of the province," Hansen said. "We were seeking to limit the dispute. We did not think we should get into a situation where the whole province was involved."

In response, the companies issued an employee lockout for Safeway and Overwaitea's Save-On-Foods stores. "The reason we locked out stores provincewide is because both companies told the unions we were negotiating provincewide and if something occurred in one portion, it would affect the whole province," Safeway's Lambert said.

The 135 stores have remained closed since May 31 because a provisional law bans companies from hiring replacements during a strike or a lockout.

Some of the key issues the union wants addressed involve job security, pension plan changes, work hours and seniority structure improvements.