Olymel workers' union reaches agreement with employer at Quebec plant

·3 min read
Union members at the plant have been on an indefinite general strike since April. (Sebastien Vachon/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Union members at the plant have been on an indefinite general strike since April. (Sebastien Vachon/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Workers at the Olymel pork processing-plant in Quebec's Beauce region have voted in favour of a deal reached by union and management representatives, effectively putting an end to a four-month-long strike that has devastated the industry.

Workers voted 78 per cent in favour of the agreement in principle, the Olymel Workers Union in Vallée-Jonction (CSN) announced Tuesday shortly after polls closed at 6 p.m.

The six-year contract includes salary increases of around 26.4 per cent over that time, with 10 per cent in the first year, the union says.

This second agreement in principle was reached on Sunday, just weeks after the first was rejected.

Labour Minister Jean Boulet had called the parties in for a meeting with an arbitrator over the weekend, and union members voted today at a general assembly via Zoom.

"The union fought again against the employer's many demands for rollbacks and members have significantly improved their working conditions overall," says union head Alexandre Laviolette in a statement.

Some 1,100 workers have been on strike since late April. The factory is one of the largest in the province, receiving between 35,000 and 37,000 pigs every week.

Olymel management had threatened to cut the night shift at the plant if the union didn't agree to a deal by midnight on Sunday, which would result in the loss of 500 jobs. It had agreed to put that plan on hold until Wednesday to allow workers to vote on the latest agreement in principle.

The labour dispute has been a nightmarish scenario for pork producers, who say they have been saddled with about 180,000 pigs they are unable to send to the slaughterhouse. Farmers have said they may have no choice but to euthanize them.

Earlier Monday, Vallée-Jonction Mayor Réal Bisson said he was hopeful workers would vote in favour of the most recent deal.

"I'm very happy," Bisson said. "Obviously the workers still need to endorse it, but I'm confident they will."

In an interview with Radio-Canada Monday morning, Boulet also expressed cautious optimism.

Olymel's senior vice-president, Paul Beauchamp, had said that if the agreement was ratified by the union members Tuesday, the measure to abolish the night shift would be dropped.

Still, in a news release Sunday, Beauchamp said the strike "has had extremely negative economic impacts on the company and the region and still poses the threat of humanitarian slaughter and food waste, in addition to forcing several Quebec pork producers to live under unacceptable conditions."

The labour dispute between Olymel and its workers has led to millions of dollars in lost revenue for pork producers who have had to foot the bill for transporting their product further away, not to mention absorbing the cost of animals that die in their barns because of the harsher conditions.

Just a few weeks ago, 57 per cent of the workers rejected a previous agreement in principle reached Aug.14, citing working conditions, salary and vacation pay among the main sticking points.

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