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Zellers employees walk away empty-handed in $1.825-billion deal August 18, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Labor.
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Roger’s note: Capitalism 1A.  In the capitalist world those who own and control capital (great wealth) have virtually unfettered and tyrannical power over those who produce wealth for them, their workers.  We call it a system because the laws of the state affirm and enforce this unequal relationship.  Capitalism is in the long run unsustainable because you cannot get blood from a stone.  Competition forces capital to continually search for new sources of cheap labor and to downgrade the living standards of existing labor.  We see this happening on a world-wide basis, and we see the global economic crisis this has engendered.  In the past, due to labor organization and pressures from below, governments have been forced to mitigate the excesses of capital and enact laws to partially protect labor.  As monopoly capital gains greater control over governments around the world, we see less and less of this.  This is certainly the case in the US and Canada.

Published on Friday August 17, 2012

 
 
 

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Colin McConnell/Toronto Star Angela Rankin was laid off from Zellers after 13 years. At age 50 she’s wondering what’s next for her.

 
Francine Kopun
Business Reporter
 

Angela Rankin knows exactly how much Target paid Zellers for the leases to 220 stores across Canada.

It wasn’t a billion. It was $1.8-billion — $1.825-billion to be more precise.

Rankin was let go on July 28 from the Zellers at Dufferin and Dupont in Toronto after 13 years working the cash, the sales floor and as a pharmacy technician, with nothing more than the legally mandated severance pay her employers were required to give.

“It’s selfishness. It’s sad,” says Rankin, 50, a mother of one who helps support cousins in Jamaica.

“I don’t know what they’re thinking. I don’t know where their mind is. It’s greediness.”

Rankin will speak at a demonstration led by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union on Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 11 a.m., in front of Target’s Canadian headquarters in Mississauga.

“Target needs to do the right thing – keep the workers and respect their wages and benefits,” says Kevin Shimmin, national representative of the UFCW Canada,

Target posted earnings Wednesday of $704 million (U.S.), or $1.06 per share, in the period ended July 30. Overall revenue rose 3.5 per cent to $16.45 million in the quarter. Revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 3.1 per cent.

The chain will open its first stores in Canada in 2013.

On the day she spoke to the Star, Rankin was hauling home a fat, round container, almost as tall as she is, for which she paid $70, to send her family in Jamaica dried cod, rice, cooking oil and toothpaste.

Some of what Rankin is sending was purchased at Zellers: A Sunbeam MixMaster, bearing a red wrap with Zellers stamped on it, sits on the floor of her tiny apartment, waiting to be packed.

Rankin worked 28 hours a week at Zellers and when she left she was earning $11.97 an hour. She kept a second job to make ends meet. She worked in security for eight years. She works part-time for the UFCW.

Now, at 50, she’s wondering what’s next. Should she apply for another retail job? Should she go back to school? She knows she loves helping people any way she can.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Kendra Coulter, a professor at the Centre for Labour Studies at Brock University. “This is a decision that has been made at the corporate level by Target and Zellers and HBC.”

She blames Stephen Harper’s Conservative government for failing to protect workers.

“If a very profitable foreign company is going to come into our country to rebrand stores, our citizens deserve respect and some criteria have to be met. They’re not building infrastructure from scratch, they’re not creating an enterprise that didn’t exist, they are rebranding stores,” said Coulter.

Walmart did it differently in 1994. When the Arkansas-based chain bought the ailing Woolco stores, it took on all 16,000 employees in 122 locations.

“Even though Woolco had seen better days and was struggling, there was still an enormous amount of talent in that company,” said Andrew Pelletier, vice-president of corporate affairs and sustainability at Walmart Canada.

Mario Pilozzi, a senior vice-president at Woolco at the time of the takeover, went on to become CEO of Walmart Canada.

Woolco sales associates were given extensive retraining. They were given a five per cent raise.

“I think that is one of the reasons Walmart has succeeded in Canada, is because we started with a fantastic team that we re-motivated,” said Pelletier.

Walmart now has more than 300 locations in Canada.

Interestingly, Walmart did not apply the same approach this time around when it picked up 39 former Zellers stores from Target.

“We didn’t automatically hire all of the Zellers employees as we needed to determine the staffing needs for each of these additional stores first, which vary in size and layout. We also needed to determine what merchandise would be carried in each store (food, etc) which varies by store and which affects staffing requirements.

However, we have been reaching out to the Zellers employees all year and have already hired hundreds of the Zellers employees to work in these stores, including pharmacy associates. Since our hiring for these stores is still underway, we expect the number of Zellers hires will continue to grow,” said Pelletier.

Of the 220 Zellers leaseholds originally purchased in 2011, Target kept 189. It transferred 45 of the 189 to other retailers, including 39 to Walmart. In July, HBC announced that it would be closing its remaining 85 stores.

There were 273 Zellers locations in Canada before the deals were made, each location employing between 100 and 150 people. About 15 Zellers stores were unionized.

That means at least 27,300 people across Canada lost their jobs as a result of the transactions.

“The simple fact is that Target did not buy the Zellers business and as such there was no transfer of merchandise, systems or employees,” Target Canada spokesperson Lisa Gibson said.

“Target wants to deliver the best guest service possible. To accomplish that goal, we need the flexibility to interview all interested candidates so we can select the best, guest-service focused team members.

“Target has already hired a number of former Zellers/HBC employees and is guaranteeing an interview to all Zellers employees who apply for a position for the 2013 store opening cycle.”

Elizabeth Foley, 47, worked at Zellers for 14 years, down to the last days.

“They sold everything that wasn’t nailed down and I helped them,” says Foley, a single mother of two teenagers.

This week, Foley received notice that the owners of the house she rents in Windsor want her to leave so they can occupy it themselves.

Her hope is that she will qualify for job retraining under an employment insurance program so she can work in a payroll department somewhere.

Representatives for HBC declined to discuss how the Zellers employees were dealt with.

“Zellers Associates are receiving a greater amount of notice (or pay in lieu) than the provincial employment standards legislation. Zellers is also providing the affected Associates with career training and transition support services to assist them in finding employment opportunities. Zellers is committed to treating our Associates fairly throughout this transition,” HBC spokesperson Tiffany Bourré wrote in response to questions from the Star.

Foley says the only career training and transition support she got from HBC was access to a website focused on how to write a resumé.

“That was their retraining program,” she said.

Foley and Rankin said Zellers employees with 20 years of service and more received an extra 20 per cent in severance and those with 25 years or more received an extra 25 per cent.

Mike Moffat, an assistant professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, says HBC could have negotiated a better deal for Zellers employees.

“Target’s argument is logically sound. It is, from a legal point of view, absolutely correct. Do they have some additional ethical obligations? I think that there was an opportunity here for Target to go above and beyond their legal responsibility.”

Moffat says corporations act in this fashion because they can.

“At the end of the day most of us do our shopping based on price and convenience. We don’t take the time to think: How does this particular retailer treat employees compared to another retailer? Corporations know that, which gives then a great deal of flexibility to make these moves.”

Labour bargains with a gun at its head — again September 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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By Tim HarperNational Affairs Columnist, Toronto Star, September 20, 2011
OTTAWA

Lisa Raitt’s talking points included two reasons for threatening to legislate Air Canada flight attendants back to work before they had a chance to put their tray tables in the upright position.

The labour minister said the Conservatives will intervene whenever they see a labour disruption having a significant effect on the economy or the general public.

She didn’t mention two other reasons.

First, the Harper Conservatives are micromanaging labour disputes in this country because ideologically they are delighted to put unionized workers in their place.

And they are doing it because no one can stop them.

The government’s latest move to usurp bargaining rights in this country was as certain as leaves in Ottawa changing colour in September.

Even the president of the union representing 6,800 flight attendants told his membership in August that the Harper government had them over the barrel when he urged ratification of an earlier agreement.

In a Ground Hog day moment, the last parliamentary session ended in June with an NDP filibuster over the government’s back-to-work order to postal workers and the fall session began with a threatened NDP filibuster over the government’s back-to-work order to flight attendants.

But the party, now in the hands of interim leader Nycole Turmel, seemed uncertain how to react to this latest affront to workers, and tried to stay away from the matter Tuesday.

Like a hanging in the morning, the threat of back-to-work legislation tends to focus the mind and eliminate posturing at the bargaining table.

The Conservatives will doubtless point to Tuesday’s settlement as evidence of its good work.

But the government has offered no parameters on what constitutes an economic threat to the country or significant inconvenience for the Canadian public.

That should concern workers everywhere in this country because by using criteria so broadly sketched no one can be certain that their hard-won bargaining rights will be respected.

This was a private company in which both management and union appeared to be negotiating in good faith without the long, meddling reach of the federal government.

In an August memo recommending ratification, Jeff Taylor, the president of the CUPE Air Canada component, bluntly told his members “the Conservative government will not let us go on strike.’’

He argued for acceptance because they were facing a government “that would rather enforce back-to-work legislation than allow your union to strike.’’

He was right.

Had the flight attendants jumped off the cliff into a strike situation, they risked losing even more.

As they did with the postal workers, the Harper Conservatives were prepared to enshrine an offer in the legislation that was less rich than that offered by the airline.

Raitt has been quick in the past to point how rarely back-to-work legislation has been used in this country and how extraordinary such a measure would be.

It is extraordinary no more.

The last three major potential labour disruptions — none of which resulted in a full-blown strike — have been met with legislative threats or action from Raitt, a self-styled friend of labour and daughter of a union organizer.

Air Canada says its flight attendants are the best paid in the country.

They had offered the workers a 12 per cent hike over five years (they accepted nine per cent over four), with defined-benefit pensions.

They point out that there are 25 applicants for every job opening and say once hired, flight attendants tend to stay until retirement.

The attendants counter they must be better compensated because they must be bilingual, must familiarize themselves with more aircraft than flight attendants on other airlines, and must undertake more long haul flights with shorter layovers.

That sigh of relief heard midday Tuesday came from air travellers and the NDP caucus.

While the travellers can take to the air with confidence, it is clear the post-Jack Layton NDP is still trying to find its wings.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Worker Solidarity, the Toronto City Workers Strike, and Words to Remember July 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in A: Roger's Original Essays, About Workers, Labor.
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Every once in a while (not often enough) a statement is made that is so succinct and to the point that it merits being carved in stone.

First some background.  Locals 79 (inside workers) and 461 (outside workers) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (C.U.P.E.), which represents nearly 25,000 municipal workers at the City of Toronto, are on strike.  The City has provoked the strike by offering substantially lower cost of living increases than have been approved recently for other civic workers (fire, police, library, etc.) and by demanding concessions of previously gained benefits.  The City and the uncritical media have made much of a benefit gained many contracts ago whereby workers can bank unused sick leave and collect a lump sum on retirement (a benefit for which the workers would have made concessions in other areas to achieve).

Since the City workers collect garbage, run day care centers, approve permits and licences, etc., the strike has had an impact on the daily lives of most residents and is generally held to be unpopular.  Interestingly, it is both the City (mainly its Mayor, David Miller) and the Union that are being held responsible by many.  But the workers have taken the brunt of the hostility.

The recently elected President of C.U.P.E. Local 416, Mark Ferguson, a veteran paramedic and student of Eastern religion, has received mountains of e-mails ranging from critical to outright hateful (along with some supportive ones).  In response to one of the critics, he wrote the following memorable lines (which are so important that I will put them bold in caps):

YOUR SENSE OF CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE SERIOUSLY FLAWED.  PERHAPS YOU MIGHT REDIRECT YOUR ANGER TOWARDS THE BANKS, FINANCIERS AND WALL STREET RATHERTHAN CANNIBALIZING GAINS MADE BY OTHER WORKING PEOPLE.  REFRAME YOUR QUESTION FROM “I DON’T HAVE IT SO THEY SHOULDN’T EITHER,” TO “THEY HAVE IT — WHY DONT I?”  IT’S NOT A RACE TO THE BOTTOM, SIR.

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