Lifestyle Markets workers seek hazard pay, firm cites rules

Citing heavy workloads and stress, some front-line workers at Lifestyle Markets health-food store are demanding hazard pay and paid sick days for working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement issued by the Retail Action Network, a Victoria-based workers’ rights organization, 41 members of Lifestyle’s staff said they wanted hazard pay of $3 per hour, retroactive to March 15, and six paid sick days for all staff.

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The group, which signed a letter sent to Lifestyle general manager Carmine Sparanese on March 30, went public with their demands after not getting the response they wanted by midday on Wednesday.

Retail Action Network said Lifestyle’s staff are now deemed to be providing an essential service, yet are increasingly frayed by heavy workloads, a shortage of staff and the stress of working around health hazards during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Network director Eric Nordal said it got involved to ensure workers have their voices heard. “Our role is to support workers when in dispute with their employers or even in changing the narrative,” he said.

In a statement issued through its legal counsel on Thursday, Lifestyle Markets, which has three locations in the region, said it has been an important part of the community for 25 years and would not be where it is without its dedicated staff, many of whom have been with the company from the early days.

“Lifestyle has continued to serve its community in the midst of this unprecedented global crisis; however, at this time, bargaining is under way,” it said, adding the Labour Relations Code precludes it from altering hourly rates of pay when that has started.

“In a newly certified bargaining unit, collective bargaining is initiated when either the union or the employer serves the other party with a notice in writing to commence bargaining. Once such notice has been served, the employer is not entitled to increase or decrease the rates of pay of employees or to alter any other term or condition of their employment until four months after certification or until a collective agreement is negotiated, whichever occurs first,” the statement said.

Workers at Lifestyle Markets voted to unionize and join the United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 1518 in February.

Asked if the Retail Action Network had contacted the union before acting, Nordal would only say it was there to support the workers.

“Our priority is ensuring workers get the pay and respect they deserve,” he said.

Eva Prkachin, press secretary for UFCW 1518, said the union has pushed grocers to improve the support given to retail workers who have become front-line workers overnight.

“They are facing challenges that they never thought they would have to face,” she said, noting the union has asked grocers to take steps including restricting the number of shoppers, providing safety gear and hazard pay for workers, and banning reusable bags.

“We hope that this campaign will encourage Lifestyle Market to introduce hero pay and sickness benefits. This gesture would help to reset what has been a difficult relationship between store management and the union,” she said.

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