TORONTO — The union representing food workers in Canada has taken its first steps toward seeking to organize Target stores as that company prepares a rapid rollout north of the border in 2013.
The Canadian arm of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has launched an awareness campaign seeking to garner public support for workers at the Zellers chain, whose sites Target is taking over to make its Canadian foray.
“Our position is that we are asking Target to recognize Zellers workers everywhere, whether a store is union or non-union, and at the very least to let them continue working at the store once it’s converted, and to honor the wages, the hours, the benefits that they currently have,” Kevin Shimmin, national representative at UFCW Canada, told SN last week.
Shimmin, who is leading the Target effort for the union, said UFCW Canada has already filed one application with the provincial government in British Columbia for “successor rights” at one unionized Zellers location that is slated to be converted to a Target. Plans call for filing on behalf of four other unionized Zellers locations in Ontario when those stores are closed for conversion, he said. Winning successor rights would preserve union representation for the Zellers workers at Target.
Only 15 Zellers stores in Canada are currently organized, all by the UFCW. Minneapolis-based Target, which has battled union-organizing efforts at its stores in the U.S., has said it plans to shutter all the Zellers locations for six to nine months before converting them to Target. All current Zellers workers will be terminated and will have to reapply for jobs at Target, Shimmin explained.
Of the 189 Zellers leaseholds that Target originally acquired, about 105 are scheduled to be converted to Target stores next year, with closure for remodeling set to begin this summer.
It was not immediately clear whether the fact that Target is only acquiring the leases, and the fact that the Zellers stores are being closed for several months, will impact their eligibility to qualify for successor rights.
In addition to its “Ask Target for Fairness” publicity campaign — centered on the website targetfairness.ca — the UFCW is also seeking to get the word out that it would file successor applications for any Zellers workers at other stores who join the union before the stores are shuttered.
“The first part of the campaign is to educate Canadians and let them know what’s going on,” Shimmin explained. “If we can convince Target to turn around and say, ‘OK, we will hire all the Zellers workers,’ we would consider that a victory in and of itself.”
The union has received some favorable editorial coverage of its effort since it launched earlier this month, he said.
Shimmin said the union, which has seen Wal-Mart shutter two stores that attempted to organize in Quebec, is taking a more positive approach with Target.
“Nowhere do we say that we don’t want Target here or are against Target,” he explained. “We recognize that a lot of the public is very excited about shopping at Target, and even a lot of Zellers workers would like to work at Target. So we are taking the lead from the workers themselves and the public and being very positive with the messaging.”
Target did not respond to requests for comment.