Head office workers reject Viterra offer

Members of the Grain Services Union working in grain company Viterra’s Regina head office voted Monday to reject the company’s contract offer and to strike if an agreement can’t be reached.

Final results of voting by all of Viterra’s 850-plus GSU member employees are expected by June 20. The GSU’s 573-member maintenance and operations unit, plus workers at the Viterra elevators in Alberta formerly branded as AgPro Grain, still must vote on the company’s offer.

The GSU hasn’t yet released results from an earlier vote by its AgPro bargaining unit in Manitoba, Viterra said Tuesday.

The company and union were to conclude 60 days of conciliation talks today. The GSU workers’ last contract ended Jan. 31.

The GSU bargaining unit covers employees of the former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, which had operated as AgPro in Alberta and Manitoba and which took over its larger Winnipeg rival, Agricore United, last year under the new name Viterra.

GSU general secretary Hugh Wagner said in a release Tuesday that the union would ask Viterra to consider the GSU’s June 3 proposals as the basis for settling a new agreement.

“Our intention is to bargain a collective agreement that recognizes the contribution employees continue to make to Viterra’s success,” said bargaining unit chairperson Ken Kupchyk in the union’s release. “The rollbacks and takeaways that Viterra has included in its final offer are not acceptable.”

“Viterra recently proposed to its employees a five-year offer that would give them a six per cent compensation payment on signing and annual increases of six, five, five and five per cent beginning Nov. 1, 2008, with opportunities for further annual incentives in the range of five, 10 and 15 per cent of their pay,” Viterra vice-president Colleen Vancha said in a release Tuesday.

“This offer represented a significant commitment to providing our employees with the best pay and benefits the business can support.”

The GSU’s office bargaining unit includes 194 of the head office’s 437 staff, the company said, adding that it’s prepared to continue office functions if the GSU workers go on strike.

The earliest notification of a strike or lockout is July 2 if the company and union don’t reach an agreement, Viterra said in a release Friday. The union said Tuesday that it would strike only on or after July 7 if an agreement isn’t reached by then.

The GSU said that out of the 88.5 per cent of head office workers who were eligible to vote, 83 per cent of those had voted Monday to reject the company’s offer.

While Viterra said it respects those workers’ decision, “we believe we have a duty to treat everyone in our company equally… and that includes a commitment to common terms and conditions of employment,” Vancha said in Tuesday’s release. “This means adjustments for some employees so that we can achieve equality for all those who work for Viterra.”

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