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Sunnymel poultry plant signs union deal

Quebec meat packer Olymel and New Brunswick poultry producer Groupe Westco have signed a deal toward labour peace for a joint-venture poultry plant that’s yet to be built.

The two companies, now working under the name "Sunnymel," on Friday announced the signing of a preliminary "recognition agreement" with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) Local 1288 for Sunnymel’s planned plant at Clair, N.B.

A spokesman for the union, whose members were out earlier this month blockading the path of a Westco truck on its way to an Olymel facility in Quebec, said the agreement means "a promising outlook for workers in the New Brunswick poultry industry."

"By signing this agreement, our union has laid the foundation of a future collaboration with Sunnymel, a new business partnership formed by two companies that have shown a firm will to contribute to economic development and job creation," UFCW Canada Section 1288P president Jean Guimond said in the two companies’ release Friday.

"Our union will do everything possible to ensure that men and women with relevant experience in the New Brunswick poultry industry are hired, so as to create a team that will contribute to the industry’s success," he said. "These workers will also benefit from stable employment in the Madawaska region."

The mutual recognition agreement will go into effect as soon as the new plant opens, the companies said. Olymel and Westco announced Clair, southwest of Edmundston, as the site for their new $30 million plant on Sept. 1.

The union already represents workers at Nadeau Poultry Farm, which operates a nearby slaughter plant at St-Francois-de-Madawaska, N.B., that previously handled Westco farms’ birds.

Olymel and Westco, who last year announced plans for a business partnership, said they had originally "indicated their intentions" to buy out or affiliate with the Nadeau slaughterhouse in St. Francois-de-Madawaska.

However, they said, they were met with "several refusals" from Nadeau’s Brampton, Ont.-based owner, meat packer Maple Lodge.

"The latter has now lost all the appeals against Westco it has made to the Competition Tribunal, the Farm Products Commission and the New Brunswick Court of Appeal," the two companies said Friday.

Furthermore, Olymel and Westco recently accepted an offer of mediation from the New Brunswick government, but "Maple Lodge has refused to comply except on its own conditions," the companies said.

"The obstacles raised by Maple Lodge’s attitude have resulted in 175 of (Nadeau’s) workers being laid off and forced Westco to slaughter its chickens in Quebec on a temporary basis."

The layoffs reportedly prompted Nadeau employees to block a Westco truck on Route 205 starting late Sept. 7. The truck was loaded with birds bound for an Olymel plant at Berthierville, Que., about 65 km southwest of Trois-Rivieres.

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