Workers call strike at Olymel hog plant in Quebec

Producers urged to prioritize heavier hogs when shipping

Talks toward a new contract for unionized employees at meat packer Olymel’s hog slaughter and processing plant in Quebec’s Beauce region have ended in a strike.

The Syndicat des travailleurs d’Olymel Vallee-Jonction-CSN, which represents over 1,000 staff at Vallee-Jonction, about 60 km southeast of Quebec City, called an “indefinite” strike effective Wednesday morning, the union said in a release Thursday.

Quebec’s hog producer organization, Les eleveurs de porcs du Quebec, has reworked its weight classification charts in response to the work stoppage at the plant.

The organization was quoted Thursday in Le Bulletin des agriculteurs as encouraging producers to prioritize their heaviest hogs when preparing to ship slaughter-weight animals.

In the union’s release, STOVJ president Martin Maurice said relations between the union and company have been tense for a long time, but workers have until now remained on the job throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “sometimes at risk to their health.”

The last strike at the plant ended in 2015 with a six-year contract. The union presented wage demands for a new contract April 19 and were promised that management would come back with a comprehensive submission covering financial and non-financial matters, Maurice said.

Since then, he said, management has demanded that contract talks go to conciliation even before responding to the union’s submissions and has “now refused to meet with us on the scheduled dates.”

The union also alleges a high rate of employee turnover at the plant since 2015, with over 1,800 people having been hired and over 1,700 leaving.

Alexandre Boileau-Laviolette, president of Federation du commerce-CSN, said several current employees in a survey indicated they would also want to leave if contract talks don’t lead to improved working conditions at the plant.

Olymel, he said, hasn’t demonstrated “the slightest recognition” of its workers’ commitment during the pandemic.

The union last October had pressed for Olymel to temporarily shut the Vallee-Jonction plant for at least two weeks following the death of a 65-year-old worker from COVID-19.

Olymel’s Red Deer, Alta. and Yamachiche, Que. hog slaughter plants have seen temporary shutdowns in the wake of COVID outbreaks at those facilities.

The Vallee-Jonction plant, in business since 1965, became part of the meats division of La Coop federee (now Sollio) in 1975 and today has capacity to slaughter about 35,000 hogs per week. The plant in 2016 added a ham deboning line that was expected to bring its total workforce to about 1,200.

The plant, Olymel said, 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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