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Loblaw locked in labour dispute at Asian supermarket chain

Loblaw Cos. Ltd.'s fast-growing Asian supermarket chain is locked in a dispute with its warehouse employees over their attempt to form a union.

The nearly 100 employees at one of T&T Supermarket Inc.'s distribution centres voted Monday on union certification.

But the Ontario Labour Relations Board sealed the ballot box because the union and the company disagreed over which names should appear on the voters' list, said Kevin Shimmin, national representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada union.

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The matter will go to a board hearing in the next few weeks, he said.

However, Cindy Lee, chief executive officer at T&T, said "the Ontario Labour Board has told us that upon review the Union may not have had enough support from employees to file this application. As a result, until the Labour Board determines whether the union had enough support, it will not undertake a review [of] the ballots from the vote held on July 23."

T&T, which was acquired by Loblaw in 2009, is non-unionized although Loblaw is no stranger to unions: The UFCW has represented many Loblaw workers for years. Last month, the UFCW tried unsuccessfully to organize employees at one of the stores of high-end fashion chain Holt Renfrew. Holt's is owned by the Galen Weston family, which also controls Loblaw.

At T&T, one of the union's biggest issues is its complaint about workers having to work 39 hours of short shifts spread over six days a week, Mr. Shimmin said. As well, the employees start at the minimum hourly wage of $10.25 and are eligible for a five-cent an hour increase after one year, 10 cents after two years and 15 cents after three years, but that the raises are not applied evenly, he said.

Ms. Lee said last week: "T&T competes in an extremely competitive retail landscape made up of many family owned non-unionized Asian grocery stores and within this context we know we offer fair and competitive compensation packages. Our non-union workplace has afforded us the essential flexibility required to grow and to ensure we remain competitive."

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About the Author
Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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