Loblaw is the subject of a new consumer rights group petition demading it increase salary for employees to a “living wage.”
SumOfUs, which claims to have 300,000 members in Canada, posted the new petition on Jan. 7 in part because the Ontario government cancelled a scheduled $1 per hour minimum wage increase. SumOfUs also believes Loblaw will feel pressure to respond because of the recent bread price fixing revelations.
“Loblaw is just coming out of a huge bread price-fixing scandal that rocked the public’s trust in the company. It cares what the public thinks and a huge outcry now could sway them to do what’s right for its workers,” reads the background post accompanying the petition. As of Friday morning more than 15,000 people had signed the online petition.
Asked to comment on the petition, Catherine Thomas, senior director, external communication at Loblaw said: “We are one of Canada’s largest employers with nearly 200,000 colleagues nationwide. We have a very constructive relationship with our colleagues and their unions, including detailed conversations about compensation and fairness.”
The petition does not say exactly how much Loblaw employees should be paid, but demands “a living wage to all employees.”
The living wage is different in different regions of the country, said Amelia Meister of SumOfUs in an email to Canadian Grocer. “In some areas, like in Northern Ontario, the cost of living is significantly less than in major centres like Toronto. We would like to see a wage that reflects being able to cover the cost of living based on region and not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.”
As for why Loblaw was singled out over other grocers, Meister said it’s because Loblaw is the largest grocer in the country. “Loblaw’s potential influence on the Canadian economy through paying a living wage is the most significant and they are also positioned as leaders in the industry. Once Loblaw is on board, other grocers like Sobeys would be more encouraged to do so.”
This is not the first time Loblaw has come under fire from consumer groups concerned about employee pay.
In August 2017, a group called Leadnow started an online petition that claimed Loblaw CEO Galen Weston and other CEOs were trying to stop the Ontario government from increasing the minimum wage. Weston said at the time Loblaw was not trying to stop the minimum wage increase but was only advising shareholders of the materially impact.
“We made no value judgements. Clearly communicating an unplanned increase in costs to our business is not a campaign to undermine wage rates,” he said in a statement to the Globe and Mail. “Our company and I have been long-time supporters of progressive public policies that support a balanced, sustainable and prosperous economy, regardless of politics.”
Early last year, Vancity Investment Management Ltd. proposed Loblaw explore the feasibility of paying employees a living wage, but the proposal was voted down in an annual general meeting of shareholders in May.
“This task is better undertaken by public-policy makers and is beyond the reach of any single company,” Kevin Groh, vice-president of corporate affairs and communicatoins told the Toronto Star. “We’re actively looking at ways to make our stores an even better place to work, including through ongoing compensation reviews.”
SumOfUs points to that May push from the board as further reason to support this new petition.