NSNDP Leader Claudia Chender addresses gathering
Over 200 community members once again gathered in downtown Halifax today to support striking workers at Pete’s Frootique, a grocery store owned by Sobeys. Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s NDP, sent a message of solidarity and support to the workers, members of the Service Employees International Union Local 2. The strike is now in its third week.
“You deserve pay that keeps up with inflation,” said Singh in the recorded message. “The grocery store you work at is part of a corporate chain, Sobeys, which has made record profits and whose CEO is making huge bonuses.”
“The offer they put on the table is clearly not good enough, and so I stand in solidarity with you,” he added in his video message.
Pete’s Frootique pays employees $15 per hour, the provincial minimum wage. Sobeys’ last offer would provide most employees with a mere five-cent per hour increase. The next tier would only see a 20-cent increase. The two groups account for over 70% of the workers. There are close to 100 unionized workers at the store.
Several political, labour and community leaders spoke at the rally, including NSNDP Leader Claudia Chender. Other members of the NSNDP Caucus were also in attendance.
“The workers at Pete’s Frootique work every day so Nova Scotians can have food on the table for our families, yet with the rising cost of living, they’re struggling to afford food for themselves,” said NSNDP Leader Claudia Chender. “The living wage in Halifax is over $25 an hour but Pete’s workers only make $15, including those with more than 10 years of service. Sobeys needs to come back to the table with a fair deal.”
On Thursday, November 30, Singh announced via social media the “grocery cartel” CEOs would once again be summoned to Parliament to answer for skyrocketing prices. In response to the consistent increase in food prices and the lack of substantial action by grocery corporations, this call to accountability coincides with Sobeys’ typical holiday price freeze on thousands of items, a move described by CBC News as ‘more of a public relations strategy than a real policy shift.’ This standard industry practice by Sobeys, especially in the context of minimal wage increases and limited communication with their workers, underscores the gap between their public image of addressing inflation and the reality of maintaining industry norms over initiating meaningful change.
Price freeze or not, according to a TD Bank economist, consumers “are still paying over 20 per cent more for a basket of groceries relative to three years ago — the biggest such increase in 40 years.”
The cost of living in Halifax has been skyrocketing. According to a study published by the Center for Policy Alternatives, the increase in the cost of living in Nova Scotia is “unprecedented,” and the living wage “for two adults working full-time (35 hours a week) to support two children” is $26.50 per hour.
“Everyone’s feeling the squeeze of high price of everything, groceries, bills, mortgage, rent, everything is up, and workers are not getting paid fairly,” said Singh.
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Sobeys’ High Profits
In stark contrast to the prolonged silence and modest wage demands of its workers, Sobeys-Empire has reported remarkable financial growth in its latest disclosures. The fiscal year 2023 saw the company achieve a staggering $30.478 billion CAD in sales, marking an increase of $312 million from the previous year. This surge in sales has not only underscored the company’s robust market position but also highlighted its resilience and growth amidst economic fluctuations.
Even more telling is the company’s gross profit for the same fiscal year, which climbed by 1.7% over the previous year, reaching an impressive $7.792 billion CAD. This increase of $133 million from the prior year signifies the highest profit margin the company has experienced in a decade. Such financial milestones paint a picture of a thriving enterprise, seemingly at odds with the ongoing wage disputes and the workers’ struggle for a livable income.
Canadian Competition Bureau’s Report on Grocery Market
The Canadian Competition Bureau’s recent report “Canada Needs More Grocery Competition” uncovers a harsh reality that’s been long suspected but rarely confirmed: Canada’s grocery industry giants, including behemoths like Sobeys, are playing a significant role in driving up the cost of living, while simultaneously keeping their workers’ wages dismally low. This situation, highlighted in the Bureau’s June 2023 report, brings to light the widening chasm between corporate greed and the plight of the average worker.
The report, which peels back the layers of the grocery sector’s financial opacity, shows a troubling pattern. Despite facing unprecedented challenges in getting complete financial disclosures from these grocery powerhouses, the Bureau has found that food gross margins have been quietly inching up over the past five years. This trend is deeply concerning because it suggests a systematic approach to profit-making that disregards the economic pressures on consumers, especially during a period when grocery prices have soared.
The inability of the Competition Bureau to obtain detailed financial data from these grocery giants speaks to the lack of transparency and accountability in a sector that directly impacts the daily lives of millions of Canadians. As the cost-of-living skyrockets, these companies are reaping record profits, with the combined profits of the country’s three largest grocers jumping by 50% from 2019 to 2022.
While Sobeys piles up their profits, the workers, who are the backbone of their operations, continue to grapple with poverty wages. The contrast couldn’t be starker – as Sobeys’ leadership count their billions, their employees struggle to make ends meet in an economy where the cost of basic necessities, like food, is spiraling out of control.