XL Lakeside beef plant workers back new deal

Unionized workers at one of southern Alberta’s major beef slaughter plants have stepped back from the brink of a strike vote with decisive support for a new contract.

Voting employees at XL Foods’ Lakeside beef plant at Brooks, Alta. went 92 per cent in favour of the new agreement at meetings Tuesday afternoon and evening, their union reported.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 gave few details on the new contract in a statement Wednesday, but did say it “features substantial wage improvements, retroactive pay and a significant increase to benefits.”

The new contract also provides for “new health and safety protections, food safety provisions and new rights for temporary foreign workers,” the union said.

According to media reports Thursday, the workers’ new contract is to run until December 2013 and provides for pay increases worth $2 an hour on the kill floor by the time the contract expires.

“Union contracts are never good enough for our hardworking members, but this contract goes a long way towards improving the paycheques and day-to-day working lives of XL Lakeside employees in Brooks,” Local 401 president Doug O’Halloran said in the union’s statement.

“I am pleased with the agreement but more importantly, I am satisfied with the high endorsement level of the workers.”

Unionized staff at the Lakeside plant, which employs about 2,200 people, have been without a contract since the end of 2009, the year in which XL bought the facility from U.S. meat giant Tyson Foods.

“On alert”

“This is a second collective agreement and there can be no doubt that there is a growing acknowledgment of the value of the union at the XL Lakeside plant,” UFCW said in its statement.

UFCW in mid-June had called a “strike alert” at Lakeside in which unionized workers sported “I’m on strike alert” decals on their hard hats.

The alert meant employees and the community were put “on alert for the real possibility of a summer strike” at XL Lakeside, the union said in June.

UFCW had said it would hold a strike vote if workers did not ratify the tentative deal it reached with the company last week, in the wake of meetings July 4-5 with a provincial mediator,

Labour peace at Brooks follows XL’s 2009 lockout of workers returning from a layoff at its Moose Jaw, Sask. beef plant, which the company then closed permanently last summer.

Citing cattle market conditions, XL in April said it would close its plant at Nampa, Idaho indefinitely and shut down its beef processing and fabrication plants in Calgary until this fall at the earliest.

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