By Emily Leedham
Host of Rank and File Radio – Prairies Edition
On February 8, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix wrote a feature on Keesan Corey, a 19-year old business student and strikebreaker at the Saskatoon Coop. Hundreds of UFCW Local 1400 members have been on strike at the Saskatoon Coop for over 3 months since November 1. They’re fighting a two-tiered wage system that would see new hires earn less. Keesan is quoted as saying, “Picketing for the few days I did, I saw more and more that the union’s values didn’t align with what the company is trying to get at,” and ““It wasn’t right to me; it didn’t feel right at all.”
What the Star-Phoenix article fails to mention is that Keesan is the son of Shannan Corey, Director of Total Rewards at the Federated Cooperatives Limited. In an article for TimeWise Magazine, Corey names her son Keesan and says:
“I’m very proud to say my 18-year-old son works for Saskatoon Coop part-time, so he’s seeing the cooperative model from a different and new perspective…So that’s been a good experience for him.”
In the article, Shannon Corey also shares how much the Coop’s values mean to her:
“The cooperative business model is really about giving back to the community and providing sustainability to communities,” she says. “I’m not sure that I ever really understood the depth of that until I came to FCL, and I really started to see how that resonated with people and how proud they were of that. For me it’s a huge sense of pride that I work for Federated Coop, and I’m the first to tell people that.”
The Board of Directors vs the Coop membership
Many Coop members however, feel that the Coop’s Board of Directors is betraying those values by proposing a two-tiered system and allowing the strike to continue for so long.In November, 474 people signed a petition to hold a special meeting to instigate a vote to replace the Coop Board of Directors. The petition was coordinated by Craig Thebaud, spokesperson for a group called the Saskatoon Coop members for the Fair Treatment of Workers, which currently has 786 “likes” on its Facebook page. The minimum number of signatures needed to instigate a vote is 300.
The petition was submitted in November but rejected by the Coop’s Board of Directors. Thebaud then sought an order at the Court of Queen’s Bench on January 3, 2019 to make the Coop comply with the petition, but the court ruled against it on January 14. Thebaud submitted an appeal Friday, February 8. He says Coop members are also submitting proposals to remove the board at the Coop’s Annual General Meeting, should his court appeal to call a special meeting not be granted.
“Members continue to be very upset with what the Coop’s been doing,” Thebaud told RankandFile.ca, “From looking at the Coop’s parking lots, they remain very empty so members are continuing to express their displeasure by not shopping a the Coop.”
Who is crossing the picket line?
Several Coop locations have remained open as some workers have crossed the picket line. But Thebaud believes the recent Star-Phoenix feature on Keesan Corey, a strikebreaker who happens to be the son of a Federated Cooperative Limited executive, is indicative of the Coop’s general approach to break the strike.
“It’s obviously very inappropriate or disappointing, I guess, that the Coop puts this person out front as a typical scab. I would suggest that, from my knowledge of some of the members, or some of the employees that cross the picket line at the Coop, lots of them have connections with management at FCL. It’s kind of been a longstanding tradition that managers at FCL’s children work at the Coop in part time positions while they attend school and do other things.”
UFCW 1400’s chief negotiator Rod Gillies told the Star-Phoenix that he believes approximately 165 workers have crossed the picket line. While Gillies expresses workers have the right to make their own choices in a democratic union, he emphasizes that crossing the picket line ultimately undercuts the union’s strength.
“I would remind the individuals who are working for the Coop that it’s those people outside that are walking in the 40 below temperatures that the people inside get to take advantage of,” Gillies says.
The strike continues
RankandFile.ca reached out to UFCW 1400 but a representative could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. RankandFile.ca will continue following the strike as it has done since the beginning.
UFCW 1400 members rejected the Coop’s latest offer in early January. The parties met again on Friday, February 8th, but the union says it received no progress from the employer. UFCW has since put out a public offer for Coop to engage in binding arbitration.
The union is also running a solidarity campaign for community members to send a message to the Coop Board of Directors in opposition to a two-tier wage system.
Craig Thebaud believes the Star-Phoenix’s feature on Keesan Corey is just the latest development in Coop’s “typical” behaviour during the strike.
“They’ve been putting out misinformation, they’re not following the statutes, it’s just been a series of underhanded tactics.”