Viterra’s GSU staff plan strike

Unionized staff in Viterra’s Saskatchewan country operations and head office plan a rotating strike to start Monday, in response to the grain company’s plans for a rotating lockout.

Picket lines are to go up around the company’s Victoria Avenue head office in Regina after midnight on July 7, the Grain Services Union (GSU) said in a release Friday.

“It is GSU’s sincere hope that the communities served by employees in these two bargaining units will not experience major disruptions to service as a result any escalation of the bargaining disputes by Viterra,” the union wrote.

The strike and Viterra’s lockout will affect just over 800 workers in the GSU bargaining units for Regina head office staff and for Saskatchewan maintenance and operations. The GSU’s bargaining unit covering staff at the company’s former AgPro Grain elevators in Alberta and Manitoba had voted to accept the company’s offer.

According to Viterra, the GSU has informed the company that about 613 staff members with the Saskatchewan country operations and maintenance units plan to report to work at their usual time on Monday. However, “they have been advised by the union to only work overtime on a voluntary basis,” Viterra wrote.

But the 194 GSU workers in the Regina office bargaining unit “plan to withdraw services,” Viterra said.

“The GSU’s action is disappointing given the significance of the company’s offer and opportunities for additional compensation through a generous annual incentive program,” said Colleen Vancha, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs, in a release Friday.

But the company’s contract offer for wage increases doesn’t necessarily apply to each affected employee, and Viterra “continues to make misleading claims about its final offer and suggests employees who actually had a vote haven’t understood it,” GSU general secretary Hugh Wagner said Friday. “Viterra’s actions are an insult to the people who work for the company.”

Viterra’s GSU staff, who account for about 21 per cent of its total workforce including all subsidiaries, have been without a contract since the end of January. The employees previously worked for Saskatchewan Wheat Pool before its takeover last year of its larger Winnipeg-based rival Agricore United, under the new Viterra name.

Vancha said it is “business as usual” at Viterra and that it has “comprehensive contingency plans in place” for customer service to continue.

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