The end of the 2018-19 Co-op strike: where do we go from here?

Co-op Rally Collage (credit: UFCW 1400)

Image credit: UFCW Local 1400

SASKATOON—The end of the five-and-a-half-month strike at Co-op— ultimately resulting in the introduction of a modified two-tier wage structure— should leave Co-op members who are concerned about working conditions at the cooperative with many questions.

But one answer that is clear to us as Co-op Members for Fairness already is that there is an urgent need to replace the Board of Directors with fresh voices. The lower pay-scale for new Co-op staff should never have been introduced, and as far as we are concerned, Co-op management had no mandate to pressure valued workers (who serve us as members and customers) into concessions, via stonewalling their concerns and demands about a wage rollback for months.

We believe that Saskatoon Co-op management wears the blame for this, followed by a Board who either approved or shrugged its collective shoulders about management’s approach to “industrial relations.” The sustainability of Co-op must never be achieved by grinding down its lowest-paid workers. Doing so violates universally understood cooperative values and, as Co-op is a large employer, it degrades the conditions of employment in Saskatchewan.

We are concerned the unnecessary, protracted conflict with UFCW that followed will have financial and reputational consequences for the Co-op for a considerable time to come.

As a group, we believe that the Co-op Board must exercise more control over management, not the other way around. Co-op must live up to its noble history by operating on the cooperative values of democracy, equality, equity, mutual support, self-respect, and dignity for all.

As worker and union supporters, we at Co-op Members for Fairness hope that the new agreement between UFCW and Co-op turns out to be, in practice, a fair and just settlement for Co-op workers, who have walked picket lines through a very cold winter. We congratulate UFCW negotiators on getting a modification to the two-tier wage grid that workers were on strike to resist (with a “bridging” option for some workers to migrate to the old grid) that we know Co-op management had been absolutely intransigent about not including.

But one thing we are certain of: we see the trend across the continent of co-operatives getting lulled into corporate restructuring, and we have no doubt that Co-op will be back in a few years, demanding more concessions. Unless the Co-op members and workers join together well in advance to stop it.

For all of these reasons, we invite all concerned Co-op members and allies to our Town Hall tomorrow (Thursday, April 18 at 7 PM) at Station 20 West in Saskatoon. Our work is just beginning!