Striking Olymel workers accept new six-year deal

Slaughter could restart Friday at earliest, company says

(Olymel video screengrab via YouTube)

Striking workers at a major hog slaughter and cutting plant in Quebec’s Beauce region have agreed to a new six-year contract that could see slaughter resume Friday at the earliest.

Olymel and the CSN-affiliated Syndicat des travailleurs d’Olymel Vallee-Jonction (STOVJ) announced Tuesday afternoon that unionized workers at the company’s Vallee-Jonction plant, south of Quebec City, have voted to ratify an agreement-in-principle reached Sunday between company and union brass.

The STOVJ said in a release its members voted 78 per cent in favour of the deal Tuesday, casting secret ballots electronically. The vote ends a strike that’s run since April 28 and ratifies a new collective agreement that runs to March 2027, Olymel said.

The new agreement calls for salary increases of about 26.4 per cent, including a 10 per cent increase in the first year, averaging out to a 4.4 per cent increase for each of the next six years, STOVJ president Martin Maurice said in the union’s release.

The deal also provides for a lump-sum payment of $65 per year of service per member and a 50 per cent increase in Olymel’s contribution to group insurance for family coverage, he said.

“The result of the vote shows us that our members are satisfied with the gains we have obtained,” he said.

The new agreement, however, was also mediated under a deadline set by Olymel, in which the company said it would scrap the Vallee-Jonction plant’s evening shift by the end of the year if unionized employees didn’t reconsider their rejection of an earlier agreement-in-principle by Sunday night.

Cancelling the evening shift would have meant layoffs for about half of the 1,050-odd unionized employees at Vallee-Jonction.

“Under these circumstances and in the context of a rapid resumption of operations, Olymel’s management (has) decided to maintain the evening shift at this plant and to renounce (the shift’s) abolition as previously announced in the event that the strike could have gone on longer,” the company said Tuesday.

Alexandre Laviolette, president of the Federation du commerce-CSN, hailed the deal’s outcome as the result of an ongoing struggle by all slaughterhouse workers in the province for “wages that recognize their hard work.”

As a result, he said, “the table is therefore set for current and future negotiations in the slaughter sector.”

‘Highly competitive’

The deal means “working conditions and employee compensation will thus be improved, while maintaining the company’s ability to operate in a highly competitive market,” Olymel first vice-president Paul Beauchamp said in Tuesday’s release.

That said, “such a long strike is still to be deplored and lessons will have to be learned,” and management “will do everything in its power to ensure that plant operations resume in a calm and constructive atmosphere.”

Beauchamp also called attention to “the great resilience of the pork producers heavily affected by this conflict.”

The Vallee-Jonction plant has capacity to slaughter about 35,000 head per week. With that plant offline, Quebec hog producers worked with the company to move some market-weight animals to slaughter in other provinces — in some cases as far west as Olymel’s plant at Red Deer, Alta. — and to sell younger piglets and weanlings to free up barn space.

Despite those moves, however, Rene Roy, president of les Eleveurs de porcs de la Beauce, estimated in an interview that the resulting backlog of market-weight hogs in barns in the province was slightly above 170,000 head and counting as of Monday afternoon.

Keeping heavier-weight hogs in barns over the hot summer months means having to manage the temperatures in those buildings, along with the number of hogs per pen, he said.

Olymel said the Vallee-Jonction plant “should gradually regain its weekly slaughter capacity” and it “should resume winning over and serving clients accustomed to quality products from this facility,” noting “the resumption of activities should gradually reduce the pressure on hog producers.”

Before that, though, the company must ensure equipment is in working order, the plant is “sanitary” and workers are available to form teams for day and evening shifts, Olymel said.

Employees were expected to be recalled to work starting Tuesday night and resumption of operations “should therefore extend over a few days.” Thus, “in the best scenario,” the plant could resume slaughter work “as early as Friday.”

Provincial Labour Minister Jean Boulet, whose department provided conciliation teams to help resolve the dispute — and who appointed a special mediator, Jean Poirier, after Olymel issued its layoff ultimatum — hailed the outcome of the vote on Twitter, reiterating Tuesday that a “blitz of mediation” over the weekend had “borne fruit.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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