Olymel, union reach second tentative deal to end strike

Company postpones threatened layoffs pending employees' vote Tuesday

(Sollio Co-operative Group video screengrab via YouTube)

A second agreement in principle has been reached between meat packer Olymel and the union for one of its major Quebec hog slaughter and processing plants to end a months-long strike — this time under threat of layoffs.

Olymel and the CSN-affliliated Syndicat des travailleurs de Olymel Vallee-Jonction (STOVJ) announced Sunday afternoon they had reached a new agreement, on which the union said it will “quickly” call a general assembly of members to vote on ratification.

Olymel, the meat packing arm of Sollio Co-operative, said Sunday it would put off until Wednesday (Sept. 1) its recently announced plan to cancel the evening shift at the pork plant at Vallee-Jonction, pending the outcome of the employees’ vote on the deal.

Dismissal letters were otherwise due to be sent Monday (Aug. 30) to “more than 500” of the plant’s 1,050-odd unionized employees, the company said Sunday.

Olymel’s Aug. 24 decision to scrap the evening shift and lay off its assigned workers “is therefore suspended to allow the union leaders to organize a general assembly of its members and will remain suspended until the vote,” Paul Beauchamp, the company’s first vice-president, said in a release.

Cancelling the evening shift “had become necessary in the prospect of an indefinite continuation of the strike,” he said, but the “difficult decision will be abandoned in the event of a vote in favour of the agreement in principle reached today, which would receive a favourable recommendation from the union executives.”

The strike, he added, “entered its fifth month yesterday and has had extremely negative economic impacts on the company and the region” and still could lead to market-weight hogs being euthanized and put “several” hog farmers in “unacceptable” breeding conditions.

Sunday’s agreement in principle followed a “blitz” of negotiations held since Friday between the company and union, led by the province’s appointed special mediator, Jean Poirier.

Provincial Labour Minister Jean Boulet said Sunday on Twitter the mediation blitz “has borne fruit,” adding that the new agreement would go to an employee vote on Tuesday (Aug. 31).

Both the company and union said Sunday they wouldn’t comment further on the proposed deal until after the employees’ general assembly.

Sunday’s agreement in principle is the second such deal to be reached between the union and management this month. The first agreement, announced Aug. 13, went to an employee vote Aug. 17 and was rejected with a nay vote of 57 per cent.

Following Olymel’s Aug. 24 ultimatum, union representatives said it wasn’t the first time the company had raised the possibility of job cuts at that facility to reach a deal with workers.

Boulet last week had proposed taking the dispute to arbitration, but the STOVJ said it would reject that option in favour of a negotiated agreement.

Les Eleveurs de porcs du Quebec, the province’s hog producer group, was quoted last week in Quebec media as saying the backlog of market-weight hogs in the province has reached about 166,000 head.

The group has said previously it was working with Olymel to try and manage the backlog, by shipping animals to slaughter outside Quebec and/or selling off piglets to free up barn space.

The plant at Vallee-Jonction, about 60 km southeast of Quebec City, has operated since 1965 and has been part of the meats division of what’s now Sollio since 1975.

The plant has capacity to process about 35,000 hogs per week and produces boned products, pork cuts and fresh chilled pork, mostly for export markets, mainly Japan, the U.S. and Mexico. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Dave Bedard

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

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