NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. – A union representing Safeway employees in British Columbia says 10 stores in the province will be permanently closed as labour negotiations are set to begin.
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1518 said Sobeys Inc. informed members of the decision Tuesday morning on the eve of bargaining between its union and Sobeys for all of its Safeway stores in B.C.
Union Local 1518 also said Sobeys indicated that if it gets favourable terms and conditions for its FreshCo discount banner, it may open FreshCo stores at five of the closed Safeway locations.
Ivan Limpright, president of Union Local 1518, said in a statement that the timing of the store closure announcement to B.C. Safeway employees is suspicious.
He said that last week on the first day of bargaining with a United Food and Commercial Workers union in Manitoba, Sobeys demanded poverty concessions and then walked away from the table.
“Now as negotiations are set to begin in British Columbia, they announce 10 store closures? It’s a classic scare tactic,” Limpright said.
Sobeys spokeswoman Jacquelin Corrado said in an email that the company had invited Union Local 1518 to review stores that are under financial pressure last June and then again in October to discuss ways to help the unprofitable stores turn the corner to protect jobs and continue to serve customers.
“Unfortunately they declined to engage in the conversation both times,” she said, noting that it’s “no secret” that many of its Safeway stores in B.C. have struggled in recent years.
“Customer demand for shopping at discount stores continues to grow and we are not adequately serving this need in B.C. today,” Corrado said. “We look forward to the opportunity to serve these communities in B.C. under the FreshCo name.”
The Safeway locations slated for closure in B.C. include Lougheed Mall and Royal Oak in Burnaby, City Square and Point Grey in Vancouver and Sunwood Square in Coquitlam.
Safeway stores in B.C. also slated to be permanently closed but that may reopen as FreshCo locations include Blundell and Broadmoor in Richmond, Newton Town Centre and Strawberry Hills in Surrey, and Safeway Mission.
The union claims hundreds of employees will be affected by the closures.
But Corrado said the total number of jobs impacted still needs to be determined in the coming weeks once it’s clear how many employees will be able to transfer to other stores based on seniority, as outlined in the collective agreement.
Corrado said the stores are scheduled to close on May 5 with the exception of the Safeway City Square location which will close on July 28.
Both Safeway and Sobeys are owned by Empire Company Ltd.
Companies in this report: (TSX:EMP.A)