TORONTO -- A&P Canada is promoting a format conversion plan for some of its stores here as its contract renegotiation with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union enters a critical stage.
The union has threatened to call a strike against 103 A&P units beginning today if progress isn't reported in renegotiating pacts that expired June 13. Under Ontario law, the union could legally call a strike starting today because it is a week after the expiration date of the old agreements.
The two sides revealed last week that A&P is proposing a store conversion plan to achieve its goal of wage parity with lower-cost competitors in the Ontario market.
The company is seeking to win approval to convert some 25 stores to lower-service units with reduced labor costs. The new units would follow a box-store format,
with customers packing their own groceries. A&P is said to be using as a model the No-Frills chain in Ontario, which is a franchised operation serviced by Loblaw Cos. It operates with a lower-cost UFCW contract, according to A&P officials.
Ron Springall, spokesman for the two UFCW locals involved in the talks, said the conversions would result in wage reductions of $5 to $8 an hour for employees. Moreover, he said, A&P is also seeking to reserve the right to convert additional stores to the new formats.
"A&P is proposing that if a store shows losses for two consecutive periods, they would have the right to permanently convert it to this format," Springall said. "As a negotiator, they're asking me to agree to something that I can't see an end to."
An A&P spokesman, Michael Rourke, said the new format would make possible lower expenses and more freedom in the use of part-timers. "Otherwise we're faced with the option of closing currently unprofitable stores," he said.
"If there's no change, we're allowed to go on strike Monday [June 20], and there will be no hesitation about it," Springall said. The union is representing about 10,000 employees in the talks. Rourke said he hoped the two sides would be at the bargaining table whether or not a strike occurred.
Also at issue is the union's request to take over the employee pension plan. Springall said the union would build in additional benefits for employees -- such as extended sick leave -- at a lower cost than A&P's current plan. However, the company is insisting on administering its own plan, Rourke said.
The union locals involved in this contract were the same ones that conducted a damaging 14-week strike against A&P's Miracle Food Mart group of stores from last November through February.
A&P must also renegotiate contracts for employees under a separate bargaining contract with Canada's Retail Wholesale Union. That pact, which affects Dominion stores and some other A&P units, expires July 2. However, the company and that union say they're optimistic they can settle the issues.