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Living Wage For Loblaw Workers? Petition Calls For Raises At Canada's Largest Private-Sector Employer

CEO Galen Weston, Jr., has opposed previous efforts to get the retailer to raise pay.
Loblaw Companies chairman and CEO Galen G. Weston at the company's annual general meeting in Toronto on May 3, 2018.
Loblaw Companies chairman and CEO Galen G. Weston at the company's annual general meeting in Toronto on May 3, 2018.

A new petition launched by consumer-rights activists is calling on Canada's largest private-sector employer to raise wages.

More than 15,000 people have signed a petition at asking food retailer Loblaw Co. to raise pay for its workers to a "living wage."

The campaign's organizers say a number of factors prompted the petition, one of them being the Ontario Progressive Conservative government's decision not to move forward with a planned hike in the minimum wage, to $15 an hour, that was scheduled for this year.

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The organizers also single out Loblaw's chairman and CEO, Galen Weston Jr., who opposed recent minimum wage hikes.

In 2017, Weston took heat from advocacy group Leadnow after stating during an earnings call that minimum wage hikes in Alberta and Ontario, set to take effect in 2018, would add $190 million to the company's costs. Leadnow said the move was meant to pressure governments not raise the minimum wage.

Weston, whose family owns the country's third-largest fortune, estimated at nearly $14 billion in 2017, pushed against a shareholder proposal last year that would have required Loblaw Co. to pay a living wage. Shareholders eventually voted down the proposal.

The campaigners don't have a particular wage in mind, as a living wage varies from place. It's defined only as the income one would need to provide a "decent" standard of living, which would include covering all essential costs such as food, shelter, clothing, transportation and health care.

The Ontario Living Wage Network estimates that a living wage would be $21.75 in Toronto, and $16.05 in Thunder Bay.

Loblaw Co. owns numerous retail chains across the country, including Shoppers Drug Mart, Real Canadian Superstore, T&T Supermarkets, Valu-Mart, No Frills and Zehrs. It's Canada's largest private-sector employer, with 122,000 people on its payroll, according to data compiled by the Globe and Mail.

In a statement to Canadian Grocer magazine, a Loblaw spokesperson noted the company's status as a major employer and said the company has "a very constructive relationship with our colleagues and their unions, including detailed conversations about compensation and fairness."

'His own boss'

Angus Wong, one of the petition's organizers, noted that consumer groups have also been pressuring Loblaw Co. to separate the roles of chairman and CEO, both of which are right now carried out by Weston. That makes Weston "his own boss," Wong said.

Such an arrangement can mean less effective oversight, making it easier for things such as 2017's bread price-fixing scandal to happen.

"From a shareholder's perspective, you want some checks and balances," Wong told HuffPost Canada by phone.

The next step in the campaign is to "try to communicate with Loblaw" on the living wage issue, Wong said, before deciding on further action.

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