Metro addresses lack of produce in Kingston stores as tentative deal reached with Toronto workers

But for a few bags of romaine and clamshells of mixed greens, the Metro grocery store location on Barrie Street in downtown Kingston was strikingly bare in the salad greens section on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. Photo by Kingstonist.

Just as students fill Kingston with their post-secondary studies on the horizon, many of those moving in downtown and in the University District may have found a lack of produce at downtown grocery stores.

In fact, anyone living downtown may have noticed this, as both the Metro location on Barrie Street and the Food Basics location on Barrack Street have been reportedly low on stock, particularly in the fresh produce sections. But before Kingstonians turn to blame the boom of students descending on the city, this issue is not one that fits that cliché.

The reason both downtown grocers are lacking in produce comes after a month of strike action by Toronto-based Metro employees represented by Unifor. Just prior to the grocery store chain and the union returning to the negotiating table on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2023, Metro had won a court injunction to stop picketers from blocking its warehouses – an action that was preventing deliveries to the 27 Metro stores in the GTA, as well as locations across Ontario. That broken link in the supply chain led to dozens of grocery stores – Metro locations, as well as those grocery store chains owned by the grocery giant, such as Food Basics.

“Yesterday, Metro was granted an injunction that ended the illegal blockade of its Toronto distribution centres by the union. These distribution centres supply fresh products to all of Metro and Food Basics stores in the province,” Metro’s Communications Manager Stephanie Bonk said in response to Kingstonist inquiries.

“Deliveries have resumed and stores will be resupplied as soon as possible.”

And while the court injunction is sure to speed up that resupplying, so too will the fact the strike action has come to an end, with Metro announcing today, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, that it had reached a tentative new agreement with Unifor Local 414, the union representing Metro employees at its 27 locations throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

“Metro Ontario Inc., a subsidiary of METRO Inc. (TSX: MRU), is pleased to announce that it has reached a new tentative agreement with UNIFOR for the renewal of the collective agreement of the unionized employees at its 27 Metro locations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA),” the company said in a brief news release.

“The agreement, which is fair and equitable for our employees and our customers, is unanimously recommended by the union’s bargaining committee and will put an end to the labour dispute if ratified. It will be submitted to the employees for a ratification vote that will take place shortly. The union will present the details of the agreement to its members at that time.”

In total, 3,700 grocery store workers were involved in the strike action, according to Unifor, whose Local 414 members employed at Metro locations have been on strike since Saturday, Jul. 29, 2023.

“Our union was able to negotiate this new tentative agreement due to the unwavering commitment of our Metro grocery members who were united in their goal to improve their wages and working conditions,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne in a statement. “I commend the workers and the bargaining committee for their solidarity and also the customers who supported them during this difficult time.”

Unifor said the details of the tentative agreement will not be released prior to being presented to members at ratification votes to take place in the coming days.

Asked for contact information for Metro franchise owners here in Kingston in order to obtain comment on how these events impacted their stores and customers, Metro refused.

“We won’t be providing interviews,” Bonk said in an email to Kingstonist.

“We won’t comment further.”

Still, with the Metro warehouses no longer blocked by employees striking over wages – which Unifor Local 414 President Gord Currie referred to as “the economic struggle that many of our employees face” – and the strike tentatively over, those in Kingston can rest assured produce will return to Metro-owned stores locally “as soon as possible,” according to Bonk.

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