Metro workers walk off the job as grocery chain closes GTA stores
Toronto-area residents hoping to pick up groceries at Metro Inc. were greeted by closed doors and picket lines at many locations on Saturday as thousands of employees formally went on strike at 27 stores across the region.
Some 3,700 members of Unifor Local 414 walked off the job shortly after midnight, effectively shuttering operations at the stores where they work. Picket lines had gone up at affected locations by 8 a.m., while stores staffed by unimpacted workers continued to operate as usual.
- Download our app to get local alerts on your device
- Get the latest local updates right to your inbox
At one east-Toronto Metro store, striking workers taking shelter from heavy rains called for fair wages and chanted "workers united!" as passing drivers honked their horns.
Both federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Unifor National President Lana Payne were on hand to support the picket after workers rejected a collective bargaining deal reached last week.
Unifor had endorsed the deal when it was first tabled and Payne described it Saturday as the "best agreement in decades," but said it still wasn't enough to properly address what she described as deteriorating working conditions across the national grocery sector.
"We are living in a time when working people, particularly working people at grocery stores, are just not making ends meet," Payne told a morning news conference.
"We have faced in the past couple of decades an erosion of jobs in supermarkets across the country."
Payne said grocery store jobs that were once considered stable sources of family income have largely morphed into part-time roles that are inadequate to address today's higher cost of living. Payne said 70 per cent of jobs at Metro are now part-time, asserting the situation is worse at other leading grocers.
But Marie-Claude Bacon, Metro's vice-president of public affairs, said part-time workers have opportunities to improve their prospects, noting the company currently has an unspecified number of full-time vacancies it has not been able to fill from its part-time ranks over the past two years.
Payne also cited soaring profits and CEO compensation at the grocery giants, saying workers earning an average of $16-17 an hour want a higher share of the earnings they helped generate.
A study released last month from Canada's Competition Bureau found Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro — the country's three largest grocery companies — collectively reported more than $100 billion in sales and $3.6 billion in profits last year.
Figures reported in April showed Galen Weston took in $8.4 million in total compensation in the 2022 fiscal year in his role at the head of Loblaw Companies Ltd. Michael Medline, CEO of Sobeys parent Empire Company Ltd., took in $8.7 million, while Metro CEO Eric La Fleche earned $5.4 million.
“This company is not under any hardships," Singh told reporters after briefly joining striking Metro workers on the picket lines. "This company is making massive profits."
The grocery chain heads have come under increasing scrutiny amid runaway food inflation, telling a parliamentary committee in March that higher prices were not caused by profit-mongering and their margins on food sales have remained low.
Last month's inflation data from Statistics Canada showed grocery prices rose 9.1 per cent year-over-year even as prices eased in other sectors.
Samantha Henry, a deli clerk who's worked at Metro for 10 years, said those rising grocery prices were part of what motivated workers to reject the latest contract offer.
The 36-year-old mother of three, who was on the bargaining committee for Local 414, said workers gave the union a 100 per cent strike mandate before talks got underway. Workers were also driven by the sense that their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic — when they remained on the job delivering an essential service — have gone unappreciated, she added.
Henry said survival is nearly impossible these days, citing rising rent and grocery costs with which most cannot keep pace.
“It’s hard when you have three kids and you work at a retail job. You have to budget your money and make sure you know what’s there every single week,” she said.
A Metro grocery store is seen in Toronto, Tuesday, July 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Eman Chaudhry, 22, spent the past four years working as a Metro cashier while she completed an undergraduate degree in human resources.
She said her years with the company have not led to any improvements to her benefits and neither she nor her other three family members — who all earn minimum wage — have enough to get by.
“Putting all that money together does not make enough to live off of," she said. "We’ve been living paycheque to paycheque for the longest time. Rent is so expensive and buying groceries for so many people is so expensive.”
Bacon issued a statement on Saturday reiterating Metro's disappointment with the strike action and saying it remains committed to the bargaining process.
"We worked constructively with the union and the employees’ bargaining committee and we reached a mutually satisfactory agreement that they unanimously recommended to employees," the statement read. "It provided significant increases for our employees over the 4 years of the collective agreement in addition to improved pension and benefits, building on working conditions that are already among the highest in the industry."
Metro said affected stores will be closed for the duration of the strike, but pharmacies will remain open. Impacted stores include locations in Toronto and its suburbs, Brantford, Orangeville, Milton, Oakville, Brampton and Mississauga.
The labour strife at Metro marked an inauspicious start to a series of negotiations Unifor is set to take on in the coming months.
The country's largest private-sector union is preparing to bargain more than a dozen collective agreements with the major grocers over the next two years, with the Metro contract the first of the group.
Payne previously said the union plans to pattern bargain, meaning the Metro deal would ideally set a precedent for future negotiations.
The union has said its priorities for Metro workers were improving pay and access to benefits, as well as improving working conditions and stability.
Payne said those goals are shared by labour groups around the world as they work to address a rising wave of worker discontent.
"Working people are fighting back everywhere from the ports of Vancouver to grocery store workers here to Teamster workers in the United States," she said, referencing an ongoing labour dispute by British Columbia's port workers and a recent agreement for U.S.-based UPS employees.
"This is not just happening here at Metro stores, it is the moment that we're in. And you can only push it so long where corporations are doing so well, the CEOs are doing so well, and workers are getting crumbs. That is not going to work anymore."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2023.
The Shopping Trends team is independent of the journalists at CTV News. We may earn a commission when you use our links to shop. Read about us.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Rick Hansen's life changed the day he was told he'd never walk again, but instead of letting his disability stand in his way, he became an advocate for accessibility rights and a Paralympic Athlete. Here's how that happened.
Sandie Rinaldo: Rick Hansen marks the 50th anniversary of his life-changing accident by visiting the scene
Rick Hansen lost the use of his legs in a truck accident when he was just 15 years old, CTV National News anchor, Sandie Rinaldo interviewed him recently while visiting the place where his life changed irrevocably.
Israel pounded targets in the crowded southern half of the Gaza Strip on Saturday and ordered more neighborhoods designated for attack to evacuate, driving up the death toll even as the United States and others urged it to do more to protect Gaza civilians.
A protester was in critical condition Friday after setting themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, authorities said. A security guard who tried to intervene was also injured.
Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed new charges by Russian prosecutors.
Residents of a Gatineau, Que. neighbourhood have been dealing with a string of strangers knocking at the doors of their homes looking to pick up their purchased products from Facebook Marketplace, but instead discovering they had been scammed.
Two Chinese community centres in the Montreal area are planning to launch a $2.5 million defamation lawsuit against the RCMP and the Attorney General of Canada after being accused by the police force of hosting 'alleged Chinese police stations.'
Ibrahim Ali's lawyer says the 13-year-old girl he's accused of murdering in a British Columbia park wasn't the “innocent” depicted in a “rose-coloured” portrayal by the Crown at trial.
It has been five days since Palestinian-Canadian couple, Khalil and Nabila Manna, returned from visiting relatives in Gaza, but while the couple planned to visit for a short-period of time, the Israel-Hamas conflict left them stranded for 40 days
Traffic on the Île-aux-Tourtes bridge will be reduced to one lane in each direction "for several weeks" as of Friday night, Quebec's transport ministry has confirmed. The eastbound portion of the bridge will be completely closed for about an hour starting at 11 p.m. Friday to redirect the lanes.
FAE's indefinite strike will continue. Union heads say they've submitted a counter-offer to Quebec as the widespread education walkout stretched into its seventh day.
After 12 days on hunger strike, Alexe Frédéric Migneault feels they have won a round in their battle against Quebec's health insurance board and is ending their fast.
Four years ago, the temporarily closed sign went up outside the Clinton Hospital’s emergency room.
Both the Crown and the defence have wrapped up their respective cases at the second degree murder trial of Robert Charnock in London.
Medical supply manufacturer Medicom announced it will build a $165 million plant in London to produce medical grade nitrile gloves — the first plant of its kind in Canada.
Alleged victims speak out after a Waterloo, Ont. man posed as a CSIS agent and scammed women out of millions
Several women have come forward claiming they were victims of a romance scam by a Waterloo, Ont. man. Police believe he allegedly defrauded dozens of women out of more than $2 million over 15 years.
Police in Six Nations of the Grand River say no one was hurt after a male barricaded himself inside a home and shot at police.
The transmission tower beside CTV Kitchener’s old station has been fully dismantled.
While he’s a big supporter of what the city has planned for downtown, the owner of Wacky Wings on Shaughnessy Street says he and his staff are “heartbroken” they are being forced out of their location.
A man is dead and another is in hospital after a vehicle crashed into Lake Ontario early on Saturday morning.
Ottawa Fire Services says a man was rescued from the Rideau Canal Saturday morning.
It's a snowy start to the weekend in Ottawa with a few centimetres in the forecast for Saturday and more coming at the start of the work week.
East-end LRT riders had to board R1 buses early Saturday morning because of a power connection issue linked to Stage 2 work, OC Transpo said.
A new survey suggests Windsor is the Canadian city most excited for Christmas as a number of holiday events and festivals take place this weekend.
The Windsor Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) says it will be reducing its staff by about 10 per cent in 2024 due to budgetary restraints.
The Detroit Fire Department says a paramedic has been placed on unpaid leave after allegedly crashing an ambulance while impaired.
A senior Barrie police officer is facing a charge of discreditable conduct following a recent investigation conducted by provincial police.
2 men and one child not properly secured in seat seriously injured in collision, both drivers charged
A child was rushed to a hospital after police say he wasn't properly secured in his seat when the SUV he was a passenger in was involved in a collision.
Three youths were arrested after an irritant was sprayed Friday morning at a school in the Halifax area.
A 25-year-old woman has been charged with murder in connection with a homicide in Cape Breton last week.
A low pressure system moving out of the northeastern United States and passing along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia is likely to bring parts of the Maritimes the first heavy snowfall for December on Monday.
Calgary police say a man killed in a drive-by shooting in the Beltline on Thursday night appears to be from out of town.
Michigan officials approved a $500 million plan Friday to encase in a protective tunnel a portion of an aging oil pipeline that runs beneath a channel connecting two Great Lakes, leaving just one more regulatory hurdle for the contentious project.
CTV News received some good news from students at the career college of Academy of Learning.
A suspect has been charged with four counts of second-degree murder in connection with the Langside homicide.
The Manitoba government is broadening its plan for a fuel tax holiday after receiving criticism from farm groups, snowmobilers and the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.
A new set of traffic lights are now operational on Highway 59 which runs through Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. The improvement comes months after a tragedy witnessed by several residents.
Sole survivor of Sea to Sky Highway crash on how faith, community are helping her unimaginable grief
Iris Paguia-Portillo was in the front passenger seat, and her brother James and two-year-old daughter Natalia in the back seat on their late night drive home from a church gathering on Nov. 26. Just 20 minutes from their Whistler home, she heard her husband Josefat Portillo scream as their car hit black ice and struck a tree.
The City of Coquitlam has ordered the developer behind a construction project on Foster Avenue that suffered a catastrophic, caught-on-camera collapse Wednesday to hire a third-party geotechnical engineer as it works to remediate the site.
Frustration is growing over a major traffic bottleneck on Highway 1 through Langley.
An elected official for the Town of Devon should be kicked out of her council seat, the town's mayor said Friday, the day after she was sentenced to 120 days in jail.
A cyclist is dead after a crash in west Edmonton on Friday.
Jennifer Rice, the Edmonton city councillor for Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi, is disputing reports that she bullied staff and created a toxic work environment, but is still refusing to take questions about what happened.