How Alberta Labour Unions Are Empowering Retail Workers

From shopping malls to big box stores, fast food restaurants to grocery and specialty stores, the retail industry is a significant job creator. In fact, over 250,000 people are employed in the retail sector.

Retail jobs are plentiful and generally easy to come by. They require few special skills, training, or education. And they provide opportunities for full and part-time workers alike.

A recent study by the Retail Council of Canada (RCC)* shows that Alberta’s retail industry faces a significant challenge in attracting and retaining workers.

It’s estimated that 28,860 new workers will be needed to meet growth over the next five years. Another 25,939 will be required to replace those who retire or move into other sectors.

The reasons listed in the report are not surprising to those working in retail – or to Teamsters 987, a union representing retail workers.

Let’s look at the challenges employees in the retail sector face and how unions such as Teamsters 987 can help.

* Alberta Retail Sector Labour Market Study. Retail Council of Canada, May 2023.

Negotiating for fair wages and benefits

One of the fundamental roles of a labour union is to negotiate fair wages and benefits for workers.

According to the RCC Study, 56% of those surveyed said starting salary or wages are barriers to employee recruitment and retention.

41.2% said the lack of fair raises for increased responsibilities and experience was an issue.

This is something unions have been fighting to improve for decades. Through collective bargaining, labour unions can strive to ensure that employees receive compensation that reflects the value of their work.

As more workers are employed full-time, unions have advocated for living wages and access to essential benefits such as healthcare, retirement plans, and paid time off.

Ensuring job security

The shifting dynamics within the retail sector (including competition from e-commerce) can create uncertainty regarding job security. Labour unions play a crucial role in safeguarding employees’ jobs.

Unions can support rules for promoting based on seniority, protecting against unfair firing, and dealing with layoffs or restructuring.

They can also create stability and security for workers by promoting fair employment practices and offering support during transitions.

Providing reasonable scheduling and leave policies

Balancing work and personal life is challenging in any industry, but working in retail can intensify this issue.

46.3% of the survey respondents said shift scheduling requirements negatively affect employee recruitment and retention.

39.3% said challenges around shift flexibility were a sticking point.

Labour unions can help negotiate reasonable work schedules for rest, leisure, and family time. They can advocate for fair and flexible policies, including sick leave, parental leave, and vacation time.

These efforts contribute to employees’ overall well-being and work-life balance – and make a career in retail more attractive.

Providing access to training and education opportunities

Continuous skill development and educational opportunities are essential for employees to thrive in a rapidly changing job market. Albertans surveyed in the Retail Council of Canada study agreed.

“Focus group participants recognized the joint benefit of offering employees PD (professional development): while they all agreed that PD was an important contributor to staff feeling appreciated and motivated, they also recognized that when staff are well-trained, they are more efficient and effective in their work.”

41.7% said limited career progression or advancement opportunities were an issue for retail employees.

Labour unions can collaborate with employers in retail stores to establish programs that support employees’ professional growth. These can include training initiatives, educational subsidies, or career advancement pathways.

By advocating for these resources, unions empower employees to enhance their skills and increase their future employability.

Safe working conditions

Safety should be a top priority in any workplace, and retail stores are no exception. Labour unions can play a critical role in ensuring employees work in safe environments.

Because retail workers must deal with the public, “safety” also extends to protection from physical and verbal customer abuse.

Unions can advocate to ensure workplace health and safety laws are followed and that training is provided. Labour unions can also support workers in the event of an accident, incident, or violation.


The tide changing

Unions such as Teamsters 987 have long defended workers’ rights to fair salaries, benefits, and more. The biggest obstacle has been retail employers who want to minimize employee costs to maximize profits.

As labour shortages become more significant, employees will be in an even better position to demand more. Employees who want a better quality of life and support from a labour union can help you get there.

Contact us if you work in retail and are interested in starting a union. We can help support you no matter where you are in the unionizing journey.

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