Target is busily opening new stores across Canada this year, but some employees and labour leaders aren’t happy with the way the retail chain is going about it, and plan to protest at the company’s annual general meeting in Denver Wednesday.
They are also criticizing the retail chain’s hiring of a Conservative Party-linked lobbyist, evidently to pressure the federal government to keep country-of-origin labelling out of Canada’s legislation.
Target employees, laid-off Zellers workers and others will be protesting “Target's failure to respect the rights and earned living conditions of retail workers in Canada and around the world,” the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union said in a statement.
Target took over a majority of locations formerly operated by discount retail chain Zellers, which is closing down operations. The chain’s employees have largely lost their jobs over the past several years.
Though Target had promised to offer job interviews to Zellers employees (for positions at starting-level pay), the company ended up hiring only one per cent of Zellers workers, the UFCW said.
Target has no legal responsibility to keep on Zellers employees, as it didn’t take over the Zellers chain, only some of its store locations. The British Columbia Labour Relations Board issued a ruling last year to that effect, saying that Target does not need to recognize the work contracts of Zellers employees.
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Nonetheless, the UFCW points out that, when Walmart came to Canada in the mid 1990s, the retail giant hired most of the 16,000 employees of Woolco, whose stores it had taken over.
“Why has Target refused to respect the loyalty, service and experience of more than 25,000 Canadian workers, who were all terminated when Target purchased Zellers from the Hudson Bay Company?” the UFCW asked in a statement.
Though 25,000 people lost their jobs in the Zellers shutdown, only about 15,000 of them worked in Zellers locations taken over by Target.
According to documents filed in the B.C. Labour Relations Board case, Target evidently wanted nothing to do with the "depressed" image of Zellers.
Additionally, the UFCW is complaining “has quietly hired a lobbying firm with close links to the Conservative Party.”
That lobbying firm appears to be Crestview, specifically firm vice-president Adam Bolek. Bolek’s listing on the federal lobbyist registry indicates he is urging the government not to introduce mandatory country-of-origin labelling for products sold in Canada, a move many activists would like to see, arguing people have a right to know where the products they buy are made.
At present, there is only a voluntary code that some retailers follow.
Crestview's website shows its lobbyists have a number of connections to the Conservative Party of Canada. Mark Spiro, a partner in the firm, led the Conservative Party War Rooms Target Seat Management unit during the 2006 and 2008 elections. Team member Mike Donison served as the party's executive director from 2005 to 2007.
“Target's competitors such as Loblaw and H&M recently signed a binding international accord requiring mandatory health and safety inspections of source factories,” the UFCW said.
“Why is Target paying a professional lobbyist to make sure it doesn't have any commitments to global health and safety standards, international workers and their families?”
Target plans to open at least 124 stores across Canada this year. Its latest earnings report came in below expectations, showing a 28-per-cent drop in sales.
The company said bad weather this spring was keeping customers home, but noted that the cost of opening of Canadian stores also dragged down its numbers.