Sunday November 21, 2010

Local News

Superstore May See Christmas Pickets

UFCW Nov. Strike Vote critical in more ways than one

Craig Hill/Voice


he United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) is set to take a strike vote Nov. 28-29. The union is seeking a 5-year deal.


Strike votes happen all the time, however in Chilliwack there are some dynamics at play, aside from the fact that a vote could put the union in a position to picket the store over at busiest time of year.

An inside source has told the Voice that Real Canadian Superstore on Lukakuk has taken a huge hit since the opening of the Walmart Supercentre Nov. 12. Reports are that the parking lot has been cram-packed since the opening and even emergency responders have had a hard time getting in at peak times and there have even been tales of fisticuffs over parking.

Loblaw's, who owns Superstore, has been quietly buying smaller stores like the T&T chain and expanding it's marketplace presence similar to what Walmart has been doing with their smaller neighbourhood stores. In Chilliwack, the Superstore has undergone major renovations recently that were no doubt costly.

So, faced with labour unrest, renovations, new competition and expansion could the store be facing cannibalization? If so, would the company actually close the Chilliwack location?

The union needs to be careful here, because if the company is under financial duress and if they over-tighten the vice on company then it may force the company to close the Lukakuk store all together. How deep are Loblaw's pockets?

If Superstore is taking a sales hit, then the downtown Safeway is and Pricesmart too. If their aisles and parking lots become even more vacuous, then the new Walmart might actually be the straw that breaks the camels back and a store closure north of the highway is quite possible.

However, if these stores have no intention of closing then the company will pass along the wage and benefit increases that the union is asking for right straight through to the customer to the point of remaining competitive. The question would then be how much higher can Superstores prices go and still be competitive with Walmart and others?

Chilliwack resident, Beth Prosper-Hunt, said in a Facebook post that she has shopped at Walmart, but figures Superstore, Pricemart and Safeway will be ok in the long run because they've still got good selection.

"I believe it's the buzz of the big Walmart that is getting the attention. The prices that I've noticed, are not any cheaper and the quality and variety of things are still with the other stores too," said Prosper-Hunt.

She wasn't convinced that Walmart food prices were enough to make her fight long lines and limited parking there. "What I thought was a very good price was the 2 yogurt for 2-dollars and gala apples for 97 (lb). There are other prices like this, but overall, the regular grocery stores give better selection."

Walmart is the wild card. With any local closures, the company would be left in more of a position to actually raise food prices so individually, shoppers might win with some hot prices, but the community could pay the real cost in the end with layoffs and higher food expenditures.

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