Sobeys has launched an illegal lockout of more than 600 Safeway workers in the Metro Vancouver Region, according to a complaint filed by UFCW 1518 at the BC Labour Relations Board.


            The complaint comes in the wake of Sobeys' January announcement that it will close 10 Safeway stores across the Lower Mainland. Sobeys said that it would consider re-opening five of those locations if the company received an "appropriate" collective agreement for FreshCo, its discount banner from Ontario.


            UFCW 1518 President Ivan Limpright said the timing of the announcement coupled with the carrot-and-stick nature of the FreshCo news and the fact that the pharmacies at the five locations earmarked for FreshCo will remain open provide grounds for the illegal lockout complaint.


            "Look, we're about to begin negotiations with the company. And Sobeys picks this moment to announce 10 store closures? The company's message is clear: it will re-open at least five of those stores only if the union and our members accept a substandard agreement," said Limpright. "That constitutes an illegal lockout. It's a threat intended to intimidate our members, weaken the union's position and further Sobeys own cause at the bargaining table.”


            The BC Labour Relations Code defines an illegal lockout as "closing a place of work, a suspension of work or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ a number of…employees in order to compel the employees to agree to conditions of employment."


            "It's one thing to close because of financial underperformance, said Limpwright. “That's any company's right. But this illegal lockout is a bold and callous move to strip our members of their employment and their rights under a legally negotiated collective agreement – that's shameful."


            Sobeys handed termination letters to 660 UFCW 1518 members on January 23 following the store closure announcement.


            "This is devastating for our members. Absolutely devastating," Limpright said. "We're ready to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract and Sobeys is playing with our members' lives. We don't agree that a discount banner requires a discount collective agreement."


            (With files from UFCW 1518)