Sugar in short supply as strike at Rogers Sugar refinery hits 6th week

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Six weeks into a strike at Rogers Sugar, sugar shortages are starting to crop up in Vancouver.

Shelves at a No Frills grocery store at 1460 East Hastings only had a few bags of sugar left Friday afternoon. It was similar at the Safeway outlet at Broadway and Commercial.

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This is making it tough for some small businesses, like the To Live For Bakery and Café at 1508 Nanaimo in east Vancouver.

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“Right now our ordering for sugar, be it brown sugar, cane sugar or icing sugar, we are limited in what we can bring in from our suppliers,” said Andrea Polz, manager of the bakery. “They are having to ration what we can bring in, from order to order.”

Polz said the shortages of different types of sugar “varies from day to day and week to week.”

“Right now we’re limited to two bags of brown sugar, icing sugar or cane sugar per day, and we order usually five days a week from (the distributors),” she said. “So we are limited anywhere from eight to 10 bags, and we typically would order a lot more than that.”

She said the price of sugar has also gone up “10 to 20 per cent, depending on the product.”

Ramon Benedetti of Benny’s Grocery in Strathcona said “some stuff is trickling through,” because the Rogers Sugar Refinery is still operating with management personnel.

But some types of sugar are hard to come by.

“Right now, I can’t get any brown sugar,” he said. “What I’ve got left is what I’ve got.”

Adrian Soldera of the Public and Private Workers of Canada union said “Vancouver is the only place that makes (brown sugar) for Rogers. As we go into Christmas, that’s having a huge effect.”

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Exterior of the Roger’s Sugar Refinery in Vancouver on Feb. 2, 2011. Photo by Jenelle Schneider /Vancouver Sun

Rogers is owned by Lantic Sugar, which also operates plants in Montreal and Taber, Alta.

The company declined to comment on the strike, which began Sept. 28.

“We haven’t actually been in any talks at all,” said Soldera. “(But) the company did reach out to us last week, and said they would like to sit down to talk about going back into negotiations. So we have a meeting scheduled for Monday morning.”

Soldera said there are 138 union workers at the Vancouver refinery, which has been operating since 1890.

“Right now the guys work eight hours a day, five days a week, and the plant runs at 120 hours a week,” said Soldera. “They do maintenance on the weekend and occasionally do run-throughs on the weekend. The company wants to basically run the place 168 hours a week, so every day, 24 hours a day, and they want to mandate 12-hour shifts.”

He said this could mean workers would work 48-to-72 hour work weeks, depending on how busy it is.

The union is fighting the mandated 12-hour shifts, and also wants improvements in wages.

Currently, Soldera said first year workers “only make 70 per cent of the base rate. So you’re making $21 and change an hour … Full base rate is just over $30 right now.”
This is the first contract the Public and Private Workers of Canada is negotiating with Rogers. It took over as the union for the Vancouver Rogers employees in 2021, replacing the Retail Workers Union.

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Executive pastry chef Thibault Champel pours sugar inside To Live For Bakery & Cafe in Vancouver. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

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