Carol has been a loyal Loblaw’s part-time employee for 26 years, having given up a good, full-time job in banking to care for her developmentally delayed child. All these years, Carol and her family have counted on Loblaw and her own union to provide her with a decent wage. For years, she’s been making $17 an hour, having achieved seniority in a job many people would consider a bit of dead-end.
Like most of the rest of the employees at my store, Carol is decent and hard-working. We live in a neighborhood filled with mentally and physically challenged individuals who often find it difficult to get their groceries, juggle their money or understand even the simplest protocols. I’ve watched Carol handle both stressed out cashiers and many difficult customer situations with diplomacy and humor. I’m sure that Carol would have been a valued employee in many white-collar jobs — thanks to her people skills — but life sometimes hands a person lemons and Carol has been excellent at making lemonade.
Today, she was telling me about the difficult decision she had to make about her future. Loblaws is converting this and many other stores into Loblaw Great Food — in an effort to compete with Walmart and other non-union shops — and they’ve given their employees the option of taking a buy out or staying on. For full-time employees, retirement could be worth more than $75,000 in severance but the part-timers taking golden handshakes are being offered only $15,000.
“What am I supposed to do with $15,000?” she asked me. “If I leave this job, where am I going to get another one?”
Carol has decided to stay with the Weston family chain but her decision comes at a big financial price. Her pay grade has been downgraded to $13 an hour, a four dollar an hour difference. So, effectively, her employer and union have punted employees nearly back to minimum wage regardless of the years they put in.
Not much of a reward for a loyal, nearly three decade serving employee.
There is a noticeable pall in my grocery store now. The employees are angry; they feel their union sold them out. But most of them are staying because they don’t have a lot of options, especially the part-timers.
So do me a favor. If you see Galen Weston on the street, standing in front of cameras in his cashmere sweaters and designer jeans, accept his all beef slider, all dressed, and toss it into his $100 hair cut.
Ask him why his family can squander money earned on Canadian soil, on the backs of Loblaw’s employees, on high-end English department and shoe stores. Or ask him to live for one month on a ghetto $13 an hour job.
It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.
But it’s what we get for selling out our fellow Canadian for discount shoes.