The interior of a Pete's Frootique in Bedford, NS.
The interior of a Pete's Frootique in Bedford, NS. Credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking / Flickr Credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking / Flickr

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its allies are set to mobilize nationally on Saturday, January 6. The national day of action has been planned in support of SEIU Local 2 members who are employed at Pete’s Frootique, a boutique grocery store owned by Sobeys. 

SEIU Local 2 has been on strike since November 18. With their wages currently sitting at $15 per hour, workers have expressed frustration with the $0.05 per hour wage increase that has been offered by the employer.

“To expect the very same essential workers who had to work through the pandemic to be grateful for the opportunity to work for five cents above minimum wage is truly obscene. Does anybody seriously believe that Sobeys can’t afford to pay us a fair wage?”  said Terry Armour, a Pete’s Frootique employee, on the SEIU website.

SEIU and workers at Pete’s Frootique have framed their struggle in the greater context of the fight against corporate greed. Sobeys Inc. is one of only two national grocery retailers in Canada and Michael Medline, CEO of the Sobeys parent company, is compensated millions of dollars per year.

Medline’s total compensation at Empire is about $13 million, according to Wallmine, an organization that utilizes data and technological tools to monitor information about the stock market. A report by the Toronto Star indicated that profits for grocery retailers, including Sobeys, have been increasing since 2019. 

As Sobeys and its executives rake in profits, Pete’s Frootique workers struggle to make ends meet. 

“Pete’s workers struggle to afford the bare essentials of life,” said Pete’s Frootique employee Nicholle Savoie on SEIU’s website. “We have been waiting for a fair contract since we voted to unionize in May 2022; we have waited long enough.”

SEIU said that “this is not the first time” Sobeys has been unable to bargain in good faith with their employees. 

The union pointed to a 2016 decision by the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board. The decision is related to bargaining that took place between the Union of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Lawtons Drugs, a drugstore franchise owned by Sobeys. 

The Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board found that “Lawton’s had adopted uncompromising bargaining positions with respect to wages, and holidays and leaves, without reasonable justification.”

While Sobeys has been repeatedly accused of not bargaining in good faith with their retail workers, the company has placed the blame for stalled talks on the union. 

In an email to a concerned customer, Sobeys Customer Care said, “We are disappointed both by the decision SEIU Local 2 has made to cancel our scheduled conciliation meetings, and by our teammates’ decision to strike.” 

The SEIU said this is untrue and that the conciliation was cancelled by the Department of Labour. 

As Pete’s Frootique workers enter their eighth week of striking, they have sent a clear message that they do not see this struggle as isolated. National action for Pete’s Frootique workers shows that all employers must be prepared to come to the bargaining table ready to negotiate in good faith. SEIU has highlighted that the blame for inequities in Canada is on large corporations. 

“I used to feel embarrassed that I’m in my thirties with two jobs and can’t afford to move out from my parents house,” said Pete’s Frootique worker Emily Mackinlay, “but that is not my shame to bear – it’s my employer’s.”

Gabriela Calugay-Casuga

Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga (she/they) is a writer and activist based in so-called “Ottawa.” They began writing for Migrante Ottawa’s radio show, Talakayang Bayan, in 2017. Since then, she...