The union representing 26,000 Loblaw Cos. Ltd. workers is veering toward a likely strike in the coming days as deadlines for new labour deals loom, according to industry experts.
On Monday, Locals 175 and 633, representing 14,000 employees, set a strike deadline of July 2 at 12:01 a.m. for members representing nine stores in the Windsor area working at Zehrs Great Foods and Real Canadian Superstores in Kent, Essex and Lambton counties, according to the union.
"It is highly likely at this time that the nine stores in Essex, Kent, and Lambton counties will strike starting Thursday," retail analyst Michael Van Aelst of TD Securities said in a note Tuesday.
Meanwhile, 61 stores under Local 1000A, representing 12,000 members, in the GTA are set to strike on July 5 at 12:01 a.m. The union said picket lines will be set up at all Local 1000A Loblaws Great Food and Superstore stores across Ontario. TD said if there is a strike at stores in the GTA, it will likely be short-lived, recalling the two-day strike at Loblaw stores in Alberta in 2013.
Other members of Local 175 and 633 representing 50 stores across central and north central Ontario voted in favour of the labour deal, highlighting the fractured nature of the union.
A June 27 Loblaw memo titled "Re: Labour Action Planning," obtained by industry publication Grocery Business, said that Loblaw was notified of the strike mandates, and that it would be closing service cases in its fresh departments during the dispute. It also said a strike "will definitely affect sales volumes and production."
Loblaw could not be immediately reached for comment. Union officials did not respond to requests for comment.
TD's Mr. Van Aelst said Loblaw is in a good position in the standoff with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1000A.
"We would not be surprised to see Loblaw hold firm on its offer – the company appears to be in a pretty good bargaining position considering that union leadership unanimously recommended the deal, only 61-per-cent of the union members voted against the deal and voter turnout was apparently very low (<20%)."
It's not clear what the particular issues are in the labour dispute, or if the two sides are currently talking. The union said on its website its members feel they are not being treated fairly. "Through your vote, you have told us that tentative agreement was not good enough and you're extremely frustrated at being undervalued and that the company isn't listening."
Howard Levitt, an employment lawyer at employment and labour law firm Levitt & Grosman LLP, said it would be a mistake for Loblaw to cede to employees because it would invite further disputes.
"It's in no one's interest for the company to back down at this point," Mr. Levitt said in an interview. "Loblaws will never give them more money, so all they're going to do is lose whatever time they're on strike for and, at the end of the day, walk away with nothing except a big hole in the pocketbook by the time they've already lost."