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Lana Payne, the Unifor National president, shouts alongside workers at a picket line outside a Metro grocery store in Toronto as workers rejected a tentative deal triggering a strike of nearly 3,700 grocery store workers in the Greater Toronto Area, on July 29.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

About 3,700 grocery workers in the Greater Toronto Area set up picket lines outside Metro Inc. stores this weekend after rejecting a deal that the union’s president says didn’t adequately address wages and working conditions.

The company closed 27 of its stores on Saturday. However, pharmacies remain open through the strike.

The strike by members represented by Unifor Local 414 comes amid concern among workers that their wages haven’t increased much over the years while big grocers have seen large profits. The Competition Bureau said in a June report that the country’s largest grocers – Loblaw Cos. Ltd., Sobeys Inc. and Metro – reported more than $100-billion in sales in 2022 and earned more than $3.6 billion in profits.

Lana Payne, Unifor’s national president, said in an interview on Sunday that any agreement reached with Metro’s striking employees will set a “very important pattern” for the grocery sector, where other union locals will be negotiating. Workers at Metro rejected a tentative deal, the union said on Friday.

“They know that they’re not just fighting for themselves. They’re fighting for every grocery store worker and every retail worker out there,” Ms. Payne said.

Outside a Metro store in east Toronto on Sunday, about two dozen striking workers cheered as drivers honked their cars.

Eman Chaudhry has worked part-time as a cashier for four years. She and her family struggle to make ends meet to live in the city. As a part-time worker, she doesn’t receive any sick days. Ms. Chaudhry characterized the deal that was presented to members last week as “unfair.” She had hoped that the company would at least reinstate the $2-an-hour pay premium that workers temporarily received in 2020.

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“They make millions of dollars every year … and they can’t afford to give their workers a couple of extra dollars to keep them living in their homes,” she said.

“We can’t even shop at our own grocery store. We can’t afford to,” Ms. Chaudhry added.

Marie-Claude Bacon, spokeswoman for Metro, said in an e-mail statement on Sunday that the grocer was “committed” to negotiating.

During the strike, perishable products that can still be sold would be transferred to other stores outside the Greater Toronto Area, Ms. Bacon said. Products that can’t be sold elsewhere but can still be consumed are donated to food banks.

Ms. Bacon said that the two sides had reached a “mutually satisfactory agreement that they unanimously recommended to employees” last week. The four-year agreement proposed wage increases above inflation. She also said that part-time employees who want a full-time position have “opportunities.”

But workers were not satisfied with the agreement. Responding to an offer that included wage increases above inflation, Ms. Payne said workers have fallen further behind in their earnings over the last few years, while inflation has steadily increased. About 70 per cent of striking members work part-time.

The workers want “decent pay and decent work hours to be able to support themselves,” she said.

Further, “this loss of the pandemic pay is something that is not sitting well with our members. They really felt that they went above and beyond during the pandemic to make sure that these stores could stay open,” she said, adding that grocers earned “historic profits.”

“We’re in a moment when working people really recognize their value to society and the pandemic did that for us,” Ms. Payne said.

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