CALGARY, Alberta (FNS) -- The bitter 75-day strike that idled more than 10,000 workers at 74 Canada Safeway supermarkets in Alberta is over, but at enormous cost to both Safeway and the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
If, as industry experts and union officials estimate, Safeway forfeited 65% of its sales to other chains during the strike, lost business totaled well over $200 million Canadian.
Safeway reported earlier that overall Canadian sales last year totaled $3.7 billion Canadian -- 38%, or $117 million monthly, in Alberta. However, the company declined to disclose its financial losses.
The strike cost the union an estimated $12 million Canadian in weekly payments to picket-line walkers, captains and strikers generally, with "considerable" financial assistance coming from UFCW headquarters in the United States.
Safeway expected that most of its 10,000 Alberta employees would be back on the job by the weekend after a majority of those who voted ratified a provincial mediator's recommendation.
Although the UFCW's four unions agreed to a two-tiered wage system it didn't favor, members won guarantees of more hours for part-time employees. The contract runs until mid-March of 2001.
About 2,500 long-time workers -- currently defined as those with more than 3,849 hours of experience -- will be on the higher tier.
Safeway notes that wage concessions are vital because its chief competitor, Real Canadian Superstore (Loblaws), generally has a top rate of $14 Canadian an hour in key categories such as clerks and cashiers -- $2.42 an hour less than Safeway's top rate in the previous contract, which expired March 16, 1996.
A Safeway official said the chain will woo customers back through aggressive marketing and by emphasizing "superior service."