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XL Foods, locked-out Sask. workers keep talking

Despite having rejected a contract offer from XL Foods and having been locked out for the foreseeable future, unionized workers at the company’s Moose Jaw, Sask. beef plant plan to keep negotiating.

The workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) Local 1400, voted down XL’s offer at a meeting Sunday night in Moose Jaw by about a two-to-one voting ratio, according to Norm Neault, president of Local 1400 in Regina.

The workers are just ending a five-month layoff XL Foods announced in April, citing a shortage of available slaughter cattle.

Shortly before the workers’ expected recall date, the union was informed last week that the layoff has been superseded by an indefinite lockout.

However, Neault said in an interview Tuesday, the union has tentatively scheduled bargaining session dates with XL officials in early and mid-October, pending agreement on dates from XL.

Furthermore, he said, although a company lockout is usually quickly followed by a union members’ strike vote, the XL workers have no plans for a strike vote. They still plan to start picketing Wednesday, however.

“We are prepared to recommence operations in Moose Jaw but we require a union contract that will allow us to be competitive in the marketplace,” XL’s co-CEO Brian Nilsson said in a company release Sept. 18.

An XL spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. Neault said he’s heard no details from the company about availability of slaughter cattle for the plant.

Neault said the XL proposal on which members voted Sunday was not recommended to them by the union.

XL, he said, had proposed wage increases below others recently agreed to at facilities such as Cargill’s Alberta beef packing plant. As well, the company’s proposal would have reduced available annual vacation days for new employees, Neault said.

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