The Metro Strike: The Battle That Could Redefine Canada’s Grocery Industry [Op-Ed]


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Amidst the summer heat, a cold front has descended upon the Greater Toronto Area. However, this frigid front has nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with a growing chasm between grocery giant Metro and its 3,700 striking workers. As Metro files a labour complaint and picketing workers gather at two critical distribution warehouses, the consequences of this clash extend far beyond the picket lines, threatening to reshape the entire grocery industry in Canada.

The strike, which started on July 29, has thrown 27 Metro stores across the GTA into disarray. Workers walked off the job after rejecting a tentative agreement recommended by their own bargaining committee – a move that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Until this week, the strike impacted only these 27 stores, but its effects are steadily rippling outward. Most Metro consumers in Ontario will likely witness the consequences of this labour dispute through empty spaces in various sections of their grocery stores. Halting trucks departing from distribution centers, which are vital links in the cold chain, could sadly result in more food waste, as discarding food may be necessary if the cargo is no longer safe to consume. A bold move indeed by the striking workers.

Metro Strike (Image: UniforCanada)

But make no mistake; this strike is a litmus test for the public’s moral compass, and so far, the workers have garnered substantial support. Despite the potential for a settlement favouring workers to push food prices even higher, the public’s response has been surprisingly muted.

When the “Hero Pay” program was introduced during the pandemic, it revolved around work hazards and the risks associated with the virus. The public sympathized. However, with higher food prices now at the forefront, the context has shifted. This is about making the grocery industry an attractive career option, but more importantly, it’s about ensuring dignified work. While Metro allocated millions in bonuses to a handful of executives, employees received a gift card of up to $300, exclusively redeemable at Metro-owned stores – a rather perplexing situation. It’s no wonder Metro finds itself embroiled in a strike.

Nonetheless, while this dispute undoubtedly centers on wages and benefits, it signifies a larger battle – one that pits traditional Labour practices against the inexorable march of automation and artificial intelligence. The workers on the picket lines are not simply pursuing personal gains; they are essentially championing the cause of every grocery store employee in Canada. Their strike symbolizes a broader struggle against a business model that relies on top-heavy organizations while prioritizing low margins and meager wages.

Image: UniforCanada

Conversely, grocers across Canada are watching closely. If the workers succeed in their demands, it could set a precedent that resonates far beyond the picket lines. The prospect of fair wages and improved working conditions may become the new normal, but it could also usher in a seismic shift in how groceries are delivered to our shelves.

Automation and AI are knocking on the doors of the grocery industry, promising efficiency and cost savings. If workers secure concessions through this strike, grocers might be encouraged to explore alternative avenues, such as increased utilization of AI and automation. The traditional model of hiring around 80 full-time employees to operate a store could give way to hiring fewer than 50 workers with higher wages and an entirely different skill set, focused on managing and maintaining automated systems. The public should prepare for this potential transformation as well.

As the strike continues, it is likely to intensify with each passing week. The longer it endures, the deeper the scars it will leave on both sides. We must acknowledge that the grocery industry, like many others, stands at a crossroads. How it navigates this strike, and its aftermath will establish a precedent for the entire Canadian labour landscape. If Metro’s workers succeed in their fight for fair compensation and humane working conditions, the way grocery stores operate in Canada could undergo a profound transformation. The substantial influx of self-checkouts, as irritating as it may have been to many Canadians, could only mark the beginning of this evolution.

Sylvain Charlebois
Sylvain Charlebois
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.


  1. I fullheartedly support these striking essential workers in their fight for dignified wages and humane working conditions! I am aware this will further fuel food inflation, and I too struggle to pay my bills with inflated food costs. However, my sense of care and compassion for fellow human beings means that I am willing to pay a bit more to ensure that grocery workers don’t suffer poverty and rotational shift work, needlessly.

    If living wages come at the cost of fewer but better quality jobs, so be it! We have a 6 figure surplus of unfilled job postings in this country, for jobs that do not pay for a modest standard of living. Fewer Canadians struggling with the exhaustion of working poverty is a goal to reach for, in my opinion!

  2. None of that narrative seems to stress what really matters in this struggle: A select group of Canadian and international billionaires, growing absurdly wealthy with record gains and still refuse to part with even a fraction of it to make thousands of people’s lives and their families lives considerably more affordable.

  3. The mention above about giving three hundred dollar gift cards forgot to mention that the taxes on these cards was taken off the employees paycheck the next week.

  4. I’m disabled and my wife works for Loblaws. In the last 6 years my wife has had only one sick day. She worked all through Covid even though CERB would have paid more. She was guaranteed 28 hours per week, but because she is a reliable, mature employee with a wide open availability, she was getting 32-40 hours per week. In January of this year, management cut every employee’s hours in half, but insisted it was for “3-4 weeks”. A week later, they took 8 more hours off. It stayed that way for two months. Then she got 20 hours per week. The store has had a “do not replace call in” policy for 6 months, meaning if someone calls in sick, they do not replace them. All this and management has been bragging about the stores success. For 3 years the store has had a major problem retaining good workers. My wife is actively looking to leave. Not sure how a company that posted a half a billion in profit last quarter alone, could do this to good, loyal workers. Loblaws contract year is 2024. Be waiting for it; it will be Metro all over.

  5. This strike has gone on long enough your not hurting metro cooperation you the 27 are hurting the community’s that rely on them for Daily essentials from the mother who needs milk for her child to the elderly who rely on access to much needed medication and those who don’t have access to transportation or have difficulties getting to other stores rely on their local stores for their daily needs. If you want community support this is the wrong way to go about it. It’s time to sit down and find a compromise so we can get back to business. Are you willing to reimbursed me for my additional transportation fees it costs me to drive 30 minutes to get my weekly groceries? A loyal customer for over 30 year’s I ‘m now considering shopping elsewhere.

  6. It’s the CEO’s wages and bonuses that are driving higher food costs. Retailer workers deserve to make more money. Prices do not need to increase to cover their increase. These companies make huge profits for the wealthiest people in the country and their shareholders. Shareholders are taking too much of the profit that should going to the workers. Don’t forget with Loblaw that Galen Weston is 50% shareholder so of those billions they make each quarter he is getting half of that money???
    Once again the people with the big pockets just keep filling them.
    They say we need more competition but these big companies buy up their competitors and the government let’s this happen.

  7. I work for a food processing plant that supplies alot of Metro stores. Give em H*ll as my wage is garbage in my opinion cost of living is on a rise and I’m barely able to live on my wage.


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