Pineland Co-operative Strike

The longest active strike in the history of Saskatchewan and among the top ten for Canada, this strike began on June 7, 1985, and carried on until December 13, 1993, when a new agreement was finally reached. The small retail store in Nipawin with approximately fifty workers became the focal point in the province for the many problems encountered by part-time workers in the retail and service sector. Health and welfare benefits and the assignment of hours on the basis of seniority were the main issues that held this unit together for such a long period of time. The Pineland Co-op was organized by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in the early 1970s, and this local had never engaged in a dispute before 1985. Retail co-operatives and their parent, Federated Co-operatives, had once led the way in wages and benefits for employees, but by the 1980s that had changed: co-operatives succumbed to the corporate mentality of hiring part-time workers, who were primarily women with no benefits or guarantee of hours.

The RWDSU’s Retail Co-operative Division levied a $5 per member assessment to assist picketers, and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour imposed a boycott on all RWDSU-certified Co-ops as well as on the many that were not unionized. Over the years, there were frequent busloads of supporters who made the long trip and spent a Saturday on the line in this northeastern community. During the course of the strike, many other bargaining units in the retail sector achieved some success in securing the same bargaining objectives for part-time workers. Nipawin Co-op employees were finally victorious, and secured what up to then was one of the best agreements ever reached, guaranteeing most available hours and part-time benefits. Only five picketers went back to work after the strike in positions they had requested; but they had to work alongside scabs who had been hired during the lengthy struggle. The union decertified a year and a half later in a close vote. In the mid-1990s the provincial government did pass legislation addressing some of the issues concerning part-time benefits; it also legislated a “most available hours” provision, but government members have thus far refused to proclaim it.

Paul Guillet