Forty-one workers will lose their jobs this summer when Sobeys shuts down the Lucerne cheese and ice cream plant on King Edward Street. Affected workers include plant staff, management, administration and maintenance; one of those workers is a close friend of mine.
A copy of this redacted letter was provided to the workers, after which they were given the afternoon off.
I know what it feels like to receive a termination notice. In 1996, the company I worked for closed their Winnipeg office and integrated the work with the Edmonton shop. The closure left 126 people unemployed. There was a promise of jobs in Edmonton for those with skills that were needed and were willing to move. To accept any offer would have to me felt like a suitcase-carrying orphan moving in with a dysfunctional family. I left after finding alternate employment.
Jobs provide people with financial security, health insurance and retirement benefits. The loss of a job can be stressful. Some workers’ identities are tied to their work. The emotional hole of panic, anger, sadness, and for some a sense of shame, can be difficult to climb out of.
Sobeys acquired the Winnipeg plant as part of the recent Safeway chain purchase (Lucerne is a division of Canada Safeway). Since Sobeys hasn’t historically been involved in manufacturing, plant closures should come as no surprise. Sobeys’ stated reason for the closure was to achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense or, as they say, it was “an opportunity to improve efficiencies.” According to the company’s public affairs spokesperson, an Edmonton plant has the capacity to absorb the work.
This example begs a larger question: how many workers have had to resign themselves to taking a company’s “magic carpet ride” of efficiency?
The projected result of such efficiency is, if enough workers save time by becoming ultra-efficient, management essentially gets more work output from a reduced workforce. If every worker saves time by being efficient, can total time saved suggest the need for more workers has been eliminated? You will get people working more but the question still remains, have they become more productive?
I lack the ability to exist in the reality of those responsible for running companies. The experiences I’ve endured resulting from some executives’ decisions give me cause for concern.
I have witnessed senior managers change a company’s direction on consulted advice. That direction usually changes when the managers are replaced or different advisers are consulted. In the end, is there ever a review to determine if the changes were good for the company? I have asked but never received a reply.
My perspective on executive decision making became jaded after talking with a consultant. The company was trying to decide where best to locate a new building. There were two options. According to the consultant, the executive decided where the building should go and then built the business case to support his decision.
It’s difficult for the workers at the Lucerne cheese and ice cream plant to understand the complex financial number crunching that was used to arrive at the decision to close the Winnipeg operation.
According to a maintenance worker at the plant, over $600,000 dollars was put into improving the waste water treatment equipment for the ice cream plant after Sobeys purchased Safeway. Why invest money in the plant if it was closing? Why not make that money available to the employees?
What the workers do understand is that their years of loyalty have ended with a pink slip.
Too often, the only concern for executives and organizations is the bottom line, and they do not think of employees when trying to keep shareholders happy. That just doesn’t cut the cheese or deliver the required scoops for me anymore.
The 41 individuals who worked at the King Edward facility are the same people who own homes in our neighbourhoods, purchase cars from local dealers, loyally shop at the company grocery store, and coach our kids’ sports teams.
For those displaced by Sobeys’ decision, there are no religious platitudes of a god that is providing, nor is there a spiritual understanding that the world is unfolding as it should; what solace is there for my friend, a loyal and dedicated man who was handed an uncertain future after 28 years of dedicated service?
While growing up in the ’70s, I recall a world shortage of sugar. I was young and wasn’t concerned with the details, but I do remember my mother telling us, “The sugar is gone.”
In a single parent family with two boys, the grocery budget couldn’t absorb the rising cost of sugar. Instead, we turned to other options; I still enjoy fancy molasses in a cup of tea.
The memory of how my mom didn’t accept the condition of a sugar shortage kindles an ember in me to this day.
In 2001, when Gillette decided to close its Canadian plant in New Brunswick and consolidate with operations in the United States, I marked the occasion by no longer purchasing Gillette products. When meat processor Burns pushed Winnipeg plant workers for contract concessions, our family refrained from purchasing its products for the duration of the labour dispute, and sometime after.
Since the announcement of the Lucerne plant takeover, I have shopped at a different grocery chain; I trust the word ‘competition’ is in Sobeys’ financial lexicon.
I don’t believe the economic fallout to Safeway employees has run its course. The grocery stores and infrastructure that supported the Safeway chain are still being assimilated. Expect to hear of more unemployed workers as the restructuring of stores and other facilities is completed.
I for one am voting with my shopping cart.