Metro grocery workers in Toronto end strike after winning back ‘hero pay’
Striking Metro workers shut down one of the company's distribution warehouses before an injunction halted the tactic. | Justice for Workers / via Unifor

TORONTO—Metro grocery store workers in the Toronto area ended their month-long strike August 31 with a modest win. The 2,300 workers at 27 stores hit the picket lines on July 29, after turning down a tentative collective agreement that had been unanimously approved by their union leadership.

They have now ratified a new collective agreement, however, which front loads their wage increase and adds a small overall improvement to the previous deal they had rejected. The immediate wage increase for all 3,700 workers totals $1.50, up from the original offer of $1.05, with another 50 cents in January to full-timers and senior part-timers.

This is effectively a win for their demand for a $2 wage boost in the union’s effort to get back their pandemic “hero pay,” even if the company doesn’t want to call it that.

The new agreement follows shortly after the union organized huge picket lines at two of Metro’s distribution warehouses, moving the strike action from the storefronts to the heart of their employer’s operations. The pickets restricted access of goods for Metro stores not involved in the strike action, although a court injunction brought by Metro successfully restricted the warehouse pickets just days prior to reaching the new agreement.

Montréal-based Metro is one of three mega-corporations that have a monopoly hold on the Canadian food retail industry. Along with Loblaws and Sobeys, the “big three” own 60% of the market, with sales over $100 billion last year. They also exert significant control on the supply chain, which affects many independents.

Before the new contract comes into force, full-time employees earn on average just under $23 an hour while part-timers, who make up 70% of Metro’s workforce, earn $16-17, just above Ontario’s $15.50 minimum wage. The cost of living in Toronto is higher than most metropolitan centers in North America. It’s estimated an hourly wage of $26 is the minimum needed to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

In the second quarter of 2023, Metro’s net earnings shot up 26% to $346.7 million from a year earlier, based on over $6 billion in sales from its grocery and drugstore chains. Its top five executives raked in over $13 million in salary and bonuses for 2022, so when their Metro negotiators were offering the people who stock the shelves and work the checkouts a spartan wage increase for their contract renewal this summer, employees were not impressed.

Paul White, a spokesperson at Unifor, told People’s World earlier in the strike that he believes “this is an interesting time for workers. They’re rightfully frustrated, especially in the grocery sector when you’re hearing about the wild profits” the corporations are raking in.

“There’s an increased level of militancy and worker power that we haven’t seen in some time and this is a really important time for unions to direct some of this energy. We’re seeing more and more workers are fighting back and demanding their fair share.”

“This tentative agreement acknowledges the economic struggle that many of our members face,” said Gord Currie, the Unifor local’s president, in a statement after the vote. “I am very proud of these members and their determination.”

Not all members are cheerful about the agreement, as some workers have been quoted in the media as being unhappy with the small increase of 75 cents over five years for full-timers and 55 cents for part-timers. The union has not released the vote tally, which suggests the vote was very possibly a close one.

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Steve Yudin
Steve Yudin

Steve Yudin is a freelance reporter in Toronto. He’s been active in left-wing politics and progressive causes most of his adult life. He led the McGill University wing of the New Democratic Party in the early 1980s as well as engaged in demonstrations against South African apartheid. Today, he leads his local tenant association in their struggle for affordable housing in Toronto and enjoys joining protests against the Conservative provincial government and its neoliberal agenda.