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Grocers defend pandemic pay cut decisions as independently made despite emails, calls

The logo of a Metro grocery store is seen Tuesday, January 31, 2012 in Montreal. Union leaders who represent thousands of grocery store workers are telling MPs there is no reason why large chains are cutting pandemic-related pay premiums since the pandemic hasn't gone away. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

OTTAWA — Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains onFriday 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2020.

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The Canadian Press