Labour deal put to vote at XL Lakeside

Workers at XL Foods’ Lakeside beef plant, many now sporting “I’m on strike alert” stickers on their hard hats, will put a tentative contract to a vote this week, leading either to labour peace or a strike vote.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401, which represents the workers at the Brooks, Alta. packing plant, has called a series of three ratification meetings for plant staff for noon, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday (July 12) at the Heritage Inn on Second Street.

The UFCW, in a statement, said the tentative contract with XL Foods follows “extended bargaining sessions” with provincial mediator Andrew Sims on July 4-5.

If the workers reject the proposed deal, “a process will commence under the laws of Alberta for a strike vote to be conducted,” the union said.

Details on the contract were not yet released and the union “will only say at this point that it represents a significant improvement from the company’s last offer.”

The union called its “strike alert” on June 17, criticizing the company’s initial offer as “a good starting point (but) a bad finishing point.”

Plant staff, the union said at the time, need “better health and safety and fairer line speeds” as well as “better benefits, better vacations and more rights at work” and “better wages, improved overtime, paid breaks (and) guaranteed weekly hours.”

New Canadians and temporary foreign workers at Brooks “are entitled to better protections and privileges,” the union added.

“Real possibility”

With the strike alert called, employees and the community were put “on alert for the real possibility of a summer strike” at XL Lakeside, the union said in June.

XL, which employs about 2,200 people at the Brooks plant, bought the facility from Arkansas-based Tyson Foods in early 2009. The Lakeside workers’ last contract expired on Dec. 31 that year.

The company had no official comment on the proposed deal last week, but is short on options for beef processing, having shut several of its other facilities in recent months, citing cattle market conditions.

XL in April announced it would close its plant at Nampa, Idaho, west of Boise, indefinitely and shut down its beef processing and fabrication plants in Calgary until this fall at the earliest.

The company also permanently closed its beef plant at Moose Jaw, Sask. in August 2010 after a summer-long layoff of all the plant’s unionized staff in 2009, followed by a lockout.

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