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No progress seen in Viterra strike

(Resource News International) — The ongoing labour dispute at grain handler Viterra’s Regina headquarters is entering its second month with no sign of any progress, according to the union representing the 200 striking office workers.

“There hasn’t been any movement,” said Hugh Wagner, general secretary of the Grain Services Union on Friday. “The picket line remains up, and morale is very high.”

Wagner said he wrote to Viterra on Thursday proposing a meeting with the company on Monday in order to tackle the outstanding issues. However, he said Friday he had not yet received a reply.

If there is no improvement in the negotiations, Wagner said the union could increase its pressure on the company, as roughly 650 workers in Viterra’s country operations are also in a strike position.

“If Viterra doesn’t soon indicate some flexibility and willingness to bargain, then we’ll be examining ratcheting up the pressure we’re going to put on them,” said Wagner. “The country people are currently on a work to rule, and have been since July 7,” he said adding that those workers could withdraw their services altogether or on a rotating basis.

As the union considers its next steps, Wagner said it was being careful to keep the interests of the farmers who depend on Viterra to move their grain in mind.

“We do not want to disrupt grain movement and interrupt service to farmers,” said Wagner, adding that “we live and work with the people in rural Saskatchewan… but they will also understand that we’ve been patient.”

A Viterra spokesperson said late Friday that there was nothing to report as far as the negotiations were concerned. In an e-mail the spokesperson added that “there has been no impact to our business operations since the strike began. Trains are being loaded and agri-product sales are strong.

“Should the GSU decide to disrupt services at any of our country facilities, we have a contingency plan in place that will be implemented. We are prepared to continue operations of our businesses and provide our farm customers with the quality services they expect from Viterra.”

Viterra, the new operating name for Saskatchewan Wheat Pool after its acquisition of Agricore United, is in a contract dispute with some 200 unionized employees at its headquarters and as many as 650 grain elevator workers in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan workers voted in June to reject the company’s last contract offer. Alberta and Manitoba members, who work for what was previously the AgPro Grain business unit of SaskPool, voted in favour of accepting the same offer made by Viterra. The workers at Viterra’s head office in Regina began striking July 7.

Viterra has offered to provide employees a 27 per cent pay hike over five years. But the union notes that those raises would be tied to supervisor evaluations and would not be guaranteed.

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