The Grocery chain Metro reaches tentative deal with Unifor

Union members set to vote on new agreement Thursday afternoon, Metro says.

Metro Inc. and Unifor have reached a tentative agreement

More than 3,000 store workers at 27 Metro locations in the Greater Toronto Area began a strike action more than a month ago. Unifor says the tentative agreement will be submitted to the employees for a ratification vote that's expected to take place shortly. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Calls for higher wages, better working conditions
  Metro Inc. and Unifor have reached a tentative agreement, just over a month after thousands of the grocer's employees went on strike across the Greater Toronto Area, the company announced Wednesday.

The deal comes after both parties returned to the negotiating table Tuesday after the company won a court injunction stopping picketers from blocking its warehouses and preventing deliveries at 27 Metro grocery stores in the GTA — exactly one month after the strike action began.

Details of the tentative deal were not immediately available.

The company says the agreement will be submitted to the employees for a ratification vote, which is set to take place early Thursday afternoon.

"Our union was able to negotiate this new tentative agreement due to the unwavering commitment of our Metro grocery members who were united in their goal to improve their wages and working conditions," said Unifor national president Lana Payne in a statement Wednesday.

"I commend the workers and the bargaining committee for their solidarity and also the customers who supported them during this difficult time."

If ratified, the deal will bring an end to a month-long strike that saw grocery stores shuttered and later, distribution warehouses blocked from making deliveries as the dispute ramped up.

The contract talks with Metro were the first for Unifor in a two-year stretch of negotiations for more than a dozen collective agreements with the major grocers. The union has said it hopes the Metro deal will help set a precedent for those upcoming talks.

In a statement Wednesday, Metro called the agreement fair and equitable, adding that the deal was unanimously recommended by the union's bargaining committee and will put an end to the labour dispute if ratified.

Calls for higher wages, better working conditions

The employees went on strike on July 29 after rejecting an earlier tentative agreement that the union described as the best offer in decades.

During the weeks-long dispute, Metro workers began secondary picket lines at two distribution centres, preventing stores from receiving fresh products, a move for which the grocer was granted a temporary injunction.

Metro also filed an unfair labour complaint against Unifor last week, saying the union needed to return to the table to negotiate. At the time, Unifor said it was waiting for a better offer on wages for the Metro workers.

Since their last contract, workers say they have faced a global pandemic, skyrocketing inflation and rising interest rates.

Metro employees had been asking for higher wages as well as better working conditions and more full-time jobs. Some workers have said they struggle to afford buying groceries at their own stores.

"This tentative agreement acknowledges the economic struggle that many of our members face," Gord Currie, Unifor Local 414 president, said in a statement Wednesday.

The union had said workers wanted a bigger share of Metro's profits, which had risen in recent years, with some workers saying they wanted their pandemic "hero pay" — an extra $2 an hour — reinstated.

The "hero pay" issue has been central to the Metro workers' strike, Brock University labour professor Larry Savage previously told The Canadian Press.

"Yes, it's about money. But, more importantly, for these workers, it's about respect. Because having that pandemic pay yanked away sent a very clear message to those workers that their labour wasn't being respected," he said.

A recent study from the Competition Bureau found that the country's three largest grocers, Metro included, collectively reported more than $100 billion in sales and $3.6 billion in profits last year.