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The Case of Big Pink Buttons

Written by Sharyn Sigurdur Sunday, 06 August 2006

You know how it is when the neighbor comes to you and tells you he wants to make you a deal? He tells you that if you supply the fence, not only will he put it up but - he'll build a big chicken coop, fill the coop full of laying hens and, when it's all finished, you'll each share the eggs. Hell, he tells you there will be sO many eggs, we may have to go into the egg business together. And you fall for it?

So, the very next day, you rush out to purchase the fencing. You haul it over to his place and drop it off. And then one morning, you wake up to discover that the neighbor has used the material and put a brand new fence around his own, old coop. And - when you count the laying hens - there aren't any more in the coop, than there were the day you made the deal.

You're undoubtedly going to be pissed off. Chances are, not only will you want your supplies back - undamaged - you'll want some kind of justice. The neighbor refuses to talk about it, so you march off in a huff to find if you have any legal recourse, and dig up the only lawyer in town who's willing to take on your chicken case. But, after relaying the entire incident, he tells you that - unless you got the whole deal on paper, you're pretty much shit out of luck 'n there's pretty much bugger-all you can do about it but, he continues I can help you get even. I'll make you a deal...

The Clues:

In January '06, Overwaitea Food Group Inc, (OFG) began systematically - and quite merrily - converting some of it's existing Save-On-Foods (SOF) stores to PriceSmart (PS) stores. Simply changing the name on the sign, moving the shelving around and switching CBAs.

How could a unionized employer be so bold as to up and - according to UFCW 1518 - blatantly and deliberately ignore an already in force CBA, replace it with a lessor one, while the union can only spew and sputter you ask?

OFG/UFCW 1518: Letter of Understanding (LOU) #17:

Re:NEW Banners

In the event the Overwaiteat Food Group decides to open stores operating under a new banner, that are different in size or type of operations from conventional stores, the Employer will enter into negotiations with the Union to develop a Collective Agreement that is appropriate for the type of business contemplated.

Should a dispute arise as to the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the items in dispute shall be referred to a final offer selection process.

It appears the new banner tussle began in earnest shortly after OFG vacated a unionized retail location in Mission B.C., and then relocated the operation, meters away, on the opposite side of the railroad tracks. Pretty much in tact - and rumor has it - plump two-tier/relocation provisions didn't hurt the move. OFG's abandoned location, underwent some minor renovations and re-opened under a different name. Still selling OFG groceries but, more importantly - sans UFCW.

There's little information available about the move, but what there is shines a good enough light on what happened next. It's clear that 1518 took exception - that's a good thing. It's also clear that LOU #17 then became the subject of at least two BCLRB hearings not long afterwards.

Those decisions aren't readily available (filed away in pay-per-view law libraries) - but they're not all that necessary to understand which party filed, who won what and what happened afterwards. We see from the numerous review applications the local - on bended knee before the board - asking for a 'stay' of the initial findings. Who in their right mind would want to prevent a favourable ruling from going ahead - it's just not done.

Then it appears that shortly after the local's "stay" applications were dismissed by the board, a new retail collective agreement between the parties came onto the retail scene. Despite that PriceSmart stores were still just a twinkle in OFG's eyes, a PC/UFCW CBA was hammered out. The first of which was developed in 2001, a re-do in 2003 and then again in 2004 and in effect to 2015 (ain't technology grand - indestructible ties that bind). Did the board give OFG the new banner green light? Did the board order the parties to keep the noise down and work out their differences - post-haste! And so the parties did?

...the Price Mart cba is a 10 year no strike or lockout. In year 5 the cba come up for negations if we are unable to agree to monetary or non=monetary issues all outstanding proposal's will be referred to a third party who will have the authority to impose changes

Now, don't get me wrong, it isn't all bad. There are at least two items in the scaled down 56 page new banner CBA which twin the 252 page OFG/UFCW 1518 CBA, and/or which rise above or differ from regular Labour Standards - handsome pension contribution provisions and voluntary recognition provisions. There's also a provision clarifying that should a dispute arise out of the provision that labour standards trump the provision.

It's difficult to tell who at 1518 wasn't paying attention or - if they were paying attention and it all sounded too good at the table, either way, it's a no-brainer somebody wasn't. And unless there's more than what's visible to the nekid eye, there's no mention that conversions of existing stores is taboo or that it would be frowned upon by the local should the employer try.

By now you're probably wondering - what does any of that have to do with Big Pink Buttons? Well - you know how it was when that lawyer dude told you he would ...make you a deal? When he said stick with me and I'll win you the legal right to wear Big Pink Buttons, anytime and anywhere! Hell, he told you I guarantee that with enough Big Pink Buttons and the right motto, you can make your neighbor cry. - and you fell for it?

Shortly your union representative and your union stewards will be handing out buttons to each member. The buttons will carry the motto"What part of GOOD FAITH don't they understand?" It is very important that you wear your button at work every day.

Every time the employer announces an attack, 1518 reps are deployed to the front lines. Members are prepped on how bad it's going to get when the employer advances - and it will - and are frenzied to alertness with war stories (body count last reported - 94 jobs missing or killed in battle). And then UFCW 1518 passes out Big Pink Buttons.

Some of us at uncharted think that Overwaitea Food Group got a new fence. Some of us also think that UFCW 1518 may be out some supplies and - that it's going to be a cold day in the house of labour before it can gather enough eggs to sell at the labour fair.

Big Pink Buttons forever! Sing it with us

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