SURREY — The closing of two Safeway stores in Surrey will put 251 employees out of work in May as parent company Sobeys announced Tuesday it plans to close those locations and eight others in the Lower Mainland “for financial reasons.”
Being closed are the Newton Town Centre store, at 7165 138th Street, with 124 jobs being lost, and the Strawberry Hill store, at 7450 120th Street, where 127 jobs will be lost. Other Safeway stores are being closed in Burnaby, Vancouver, Coquitlam, Richmond and Mission. In total, 1,026 jobs will be lost in the Lower Mainland.
“The decision to close stores is never easy,” David Fearon, a senior executive of Sobey’s, wrote in a letter to the grocery employees’ union on Tuesday. “As a company, we have to take steps to strengthen our business in this highly competitive grocery market.”
But the union says more is at play.
“The national story is that Sobeys is attempting to intimidate United Food and Commercial Workers members at four different locals across Western Canada on the eve of bargaining, threatening job losses and poverty concessions for a total of 85,000 workers,” Kate Milberry, a communications specialist for the union, told the Now-Leader.
“If successful, that will have a major impact on those economies and communities.”
Regular shoppers at the Strawberry Hill store were dismayed by the news.
Customer reaction to news Safeway store at Strawberry Hill to close May 5 with 127 jobs lost. Also Safeway in Newton Town Centre will close. All told in Surrey 251 jobs will be lost. #SurreyBC pic.twitter.com/SIFaU6O0Oj
— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) January 25, 2018
Amardeep Gill called it his “grocery store number one” and says he shops there “sometimes four times, sometimes three times in one week. I’m coming here nine years.
“I’m very angry about that one,” he said of the plan to close it.
— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) January 25, 2018
Anne-Lise Gourley, of North Delta, told the Now-Leader she feels “awful” about the closing.
“I feel for the people that are losing their job. I get all emotional – they’ve all been so helpful. I’ve used them for many years and it’s all been nice and the service and the smile, professional and efficient, and I’m really, really going to be sad to see them go.”
Milberry said affected employees will have the option to transfer to another store based on seniority.
Ivan Limpright, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1518, representing 4,500 Safeway employees, says it’s “an insult and an outrage.
“First, Sobeys squandered Safeway’s market share and sullied a well-loved B.C. brand,” he charged. “Now they want to make our members pay for their mistakes? This isn’t about business, it’s about people’s lives.”
Limpright called the timing “suspicious” as collective bargaining is set to begin in B.C.
“Now as negotiations are set to begin in British Columbia, they announce 10 store closures? It’s a classic scare tactic. But our members won’t be fooled.”
Fearon is the senior vice president of labour relations at Sobeys Inc., a division of Empire Company. Sobeys took over the Canadian supermarket chain in 2013.
He noted in his letter to the union that while the Newton Town Centre and Strawberry Hills stores will close effective 6 p.m. on May 5, they “may re-open as FreshCo locations depending on the outcome of negotiations for new collective agreements.”
The pharmacies at both locations will remain open through negotiations and “potential” renovations.
“If the stores re-open as FreshCo locations the intention is to have these pharmacies in the new stores,” he said.
Milberry noted, however, that there’s “no confirmation” of FreshCo stores reopening in those locations. FreshCo is a discount grocery chain.
Fearon told the union it’s “no secret that many of our stores in British Columbia have struggled in recent years.
“It’s important we take steps to transform the company and ensure a strong future for Safeway,” he said.
“The work underway is focused on returning our stores to profitability and continuing to provide good, stable jobs for British Columbians.”
Limpright called on the company to “stop the games and start respectful negotiations.
“Hundreds of our members will lose their jobs,” he noted. “Hundreds more will be displaced through the transfer process. And Sobeys barely gave us a courtesy call.
“That won’t fly in bargaining, though,” Limpright said.
There will still be four other Safeway stores operating in Surrey — in Fleetwood, Whalley, Ocean Park and South Surrey — and one location in North Delta, in Sunshine Hills.