Viterra plans “rotating” lockout

The Grain Services Union (GSU) is pondering its next move after Canada’s largest grain handler announced a “rotating lockout” of some unionized staff will start Monday.

Viterra management announced Wednesday that it has served a legal notice to the GSU for a lockout that does not physically keep workers in the affected bargaining units from their workplace.

The notice affects employees in the company’s Regina head office and in its Saskatchewan operations and maintenance bargaining units, all of which recently voted against the company’s final contract offers. Another GSU bargaining unit, which covers staff at the Alberta and Manitoba elevators that formerly operated as AgPro Grain, had voted to take Viterra’s offer.

“What we are saying to employees who are part of these bargaining units is that our doors are open under the common terms and conditions in our last offer,” said Mike Brooks, Viterra’s chief information officer, in a release Wednesday.

“Viterra says its doors are open to employees, but at the same time the employer is telling employees that while being locked out they are expected to report for work on July 7 or be subject to discipline,” said GSU general secretary Hugh Wagner in a release Thursday.

Wagner called Viterra’s rotating lockout “a disturbing response” to employees who exercised their right to vote against the company’s offer. GSU representatives were to meet Thursday afternoon to craft a response to the company’s announcement.

The GSU’s membership at Viterra, which includes about 850 of the company’s 4,000 employees, has been without a contract since Jan. 31. Viterra said Wednesday that its offer would give employees 27 per cent over five years. Additionally, employees have the potential to add to their compensation through an annual incentive program in the range of 5, 10 and 15 per cent.

The GSU disputed the company’s claim, saying the grain handler has only offered to budget for salary increases and an initial signing bonus, not added to workers’ rates of pay. The wage increases are tied to individual employee performance.

“Management has not actually committed to paying the supposed increases to each and every employee in the GSU bargaining units the company intends to lockout at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 7, nor has Viterra even offered to give every employee a wage increase that at least matches increases to the cost of living,” the GSU said in a release.

The union previously pledged it would not strike until July 7 if a deal wasn’t reached, while the company has previously said Wednesday (July 2) would have officially been the earliest date for a strike or lockout.

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