Grocery store execs exchanged ‘courtesy’ calls before canceling coronavirus pay, MPs told

OTTAWA — Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains on Friday defended their decision to end temporary wage increases for grocery store workers during COVID-19 on the same day, even though the companies had exchanged “courtesy” calls and emails.

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The House of Commons standing committee on industry, science and technology grilled executives from Loblaw Companies Ltd., Empire Co. Ltd. and Metro Inc. about why they stopped paying a temporary wage bump to employees as of June 13.

All three executives say the companies reached their decisions independently based on numerous factors that for some included knowing a competitor’s plan.

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Loblaw president Sarah Davis says she sent what she called a “courtesy email” to some competitors when Loblaw decided to initiate their pandemic pay program, and again on June 11 when it chose to end the program.

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Metro CEO Eric La Fleche says his company was aware of Loblaw’s decision when the company decided to end its premium pay program, but that it was one of several influencing factors.

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Empire CEO Michael Medline says he had not received Davis’s email when his company, which owns the Sobeys and Safeway brands, made its decision to terminate the extra wages, but had heard through the grapevine that the company was considering doing so.

Those who sent emails and made phone calls say they consulted with company counsel before doing so and lawyers were present during at least one phone discussion.

Davis says she received a reply to the June 11 email, and would provide copies of the original and all answers to the committee.

© 2020 The Canadian Press