Updated — The threat of job losses for about half the unionized workers at a major pork packing plant in Quebec is its owners’ latest bid to end a four-month strike.
Olymel announced Tuesday it will “abolish” the evening shift at its hog slaughter and processing plant at Vallee-Jonction, about 60 km southeast of Quebec City, by the end of this year “if no agreement is reached and accepted by union members” by Sunday night.
If a deal isn’t reached and approved by the membership of the CSN-affiliated Syndicat des travailleurs d’Olymel Vallee-Jonction (STOVJ) before midnight, “more than 500” workers at the plant will get four months’ notice of termination, the company said.
The company said it has “seriously assessed every option… and weighed the concerns and uncertainty that this strike continues to cause for the plant’s supplies and deliveries to its customers.”
STOVJ president Martin Maurice, in a separate statement late Tuesday, said it’s “not the first time” Olymel has raised the possibility of job cuts at Vallee-Jonction.
In 2007, he said, workers at the plant took pay cuts of almost 40 per cent against the threat of Olymel shutting the facility entirely. Between then and now, he said, the plant’s lowest-paid employees have seen a base salary increase of $1.13 per hour, “or about eight cents per year.”
Olymel’s announcement follows the STOVJ membership’s 57 per cent vote last week to reject an agreement in principle reached between the company and union officials. The union represents about 1,050 employees at the Vallee-Jonction plant.
“Employees have until midnight Sunday to reconsider the no vote on Aug. 17,” Olymel senior vice-president Paul Beauchamp said in Tuesday’s release.
The company, he said, “is still willing to make adjustments within the parameters of the Aug. 14 agreement in principle, but will not be able to increase the monetary aspects of this agreement in any way, as it would compromise the plant’s viability and competitiveness.”
Olymel had said in June that the union was seeking wage increases that “would have put this plant out of step with its competitors and jeopardized its viability.”
Plant workers “must understand that they already bear full responsibility for the dramatic situation of the hogs awaiting slaughter, their impending euthanasia, and the food waste that will result,” Beauchamp said Tuesday.
“Now they will also be responsible for the loss of 500 jobs and the consequences on these individuals, their families and the regional economy.”
Les Eleveurs de porcs du Quebec, the province’s hog producer group, estimates about 150,000 market-weight hogs were backed up on farms awaiting slaughter as of Wednesday last week.
The group said previously it has been working with Olymel to try and manage the backlog, by shipping animals to slaughter outside the province and/or by selling off piglets to free up barn space. The Vallee-Jonction plant has capacity to slaughter about 35,000 hogs per week.
Since last week’s employee vote, the hog farmer group has called on Premier Francois Legualt to intervene in the dispute, while the third-string provincial opposition Parti Quebecois has called on the province to seek arbitration rather than mediation to end the standoff.
Olymel said its officials have met three times since Thursday with special mediator Jean Poirier, who provincial Labour Minister Jean Boulet appointed Wednesday to try and reach a new agreement following the employee vote, and are “at (his) disposal” for further discussions.
The Vallee-Jonction plant, in business since 1965, became part of the meats division of La Coop federee (now Sollio) in 1975. 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