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Shareholders outweigh employees when it comes to living wage

['Commentary with Geoff deGannes']
['Commentary with Geoff deGannes']

Commentary with Geoff deGannes

He is the familiar presence behind Loblaw’s President’s Choice TV commercials and there’s no denying Galen Weston’s friendly, down home demeanor makes him relatable to the average consumer. 

Problem is that Weston is far from being the average guy. He is a prominent member of Canada’s second richest family worth billions of dollars in assets and the CEO of the grocery giant Loblaw’s which of course owns Atlantic Superstores.  Loblaw’s has had an image problem as of late that has shaken the trust of many of its loyal customers. 

It all started with an announcement from the company that it participated in a scheme to fix the price of bread for 14 years. Loblaw and George Weston Ltd. secured immunity from prosecution after coming forward to co-operate with the federal Competition Bureau. Loblaw offered customers who were affected by the scheme a $25 card, the cost of which it hopes to deduct from any court-awarded damages that may arise as a result of the anti-competitive behaviour.

Then on Feb. 1, Loblaw merged the PC Plus and Shoppers Optimum loyalty programs. The result was jammed phone lines and hours-long waits as collectors tried to track down points that seemed to vanish from the PC Optimum website or mobile app.

Most recently, Loblaw had an opportunity to greatly enhance its public image by taking the precedent-setting step of adopting a policy that would have Canada’s largest grocer actually prepared to pay its employees a living wage.  However, on the urging of Galen Weston and his board of directors, shareholders overwhelmingly agreed they wouldn’t even consider looking at the feasibility of such a proposal. 

A spokesperson for Vancity Investment Management Ltd., submitted the proposal at Loblaw’s annual general meeting of shareholders last week. The speaker told shareholders that “socially responsible companies contribute to the wellbeing of communities by providing direct and indirect employment preferably at rates that reflect those costs. We believe the living wage reflects those costs.” 

A living wage is defined as an hourly rate set by looking at an area’s typical expenses such as food, housing, transportation, child care and other expenses. It is calculated annually. 

It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Weston and the rest of the suits around the board table would put the kibosh to such an idea. After all, they were quick to jump on the anti-minimum wage hike bandwagon when Ontario recently instituted the $15 an hour minimum wage.

While Loblaw has seen a reduction in its market share in recent times with increased competition from the likes of Amazon, Canada’s top grocer continues to rake in record profits. Unfortunately, Loblaw’s seems more interested in rewarding its shareholders then taking steps to ensure its workers receive “a living wage”.  

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.

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