Olymel strike talks delayed to mid-month, union says

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Quebec hog plant’s workers on strike since late April

A two-months-and-counting strike at a major Quebec hog slaughter and processing plant is expected to continue through to mid-July at the earliest due to scheduling issues, the workers’ union says.

The Syndicat des travailleurs d’Olymel Vallee-Jonction-CSN — which represents over 1,000 striking workers at Olymel’s plant Vallee-Jonction, about 60 km southeast of Quebec City — said in a release Friday it regretted that negotiations with the company would not resume before the week of July 19.

That’s because the company “has no availabilities” before that time, the union said.

In the same release, Syndicat president Martin Maurice said the union had been willing to enter an agreement in principle with Olymel during meetings held Thursday and Friday, and had made a counter-proposal during Thursday’s meeting.

But the company instead returned to the table Friday seeking more concessions on the issue of vacation time, he said, adding it’s evident the company doesn’t really want to settle and that its strategy is to “divide and starve us.”

The strike in recent weeks saw farmer organizations including the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) and Eleveurs de porcs du Quebec (EPQ) join calls for a quick resolution, given not only the costs to hog producers but all that’s been done so far to prevent ruptures in food supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UPA, in a release June 10, said it wasn’t picking sides in the labour dispute, but noted consolidation and concentration in the meat processing sector have left the supply chain vulnerable to strikes and lockouts alike. Some minimum level of work should continue to prevent waste and market disruption, the general farm organization said.

Olymel, in a separate release June 10, said it’s “sensitive to the concerns” of the EPQ, but emphasized the Synidcat was responsible for calling a strike and for seeking wage increases that “would have put this plant out of step with its competitors and jeopardized its viability.”

The company, an arm of Quebec co-operative Sollio, also warned UPA and EPQ at the time that any “untimely intervention by third parties” in conciliation with the union “could be detrimental to its progress and to the prospect of a quick resolution.”

When the strike began April 28, Olymel said it had “redirected” purchased hogs in Ontario and Quebec to other slaughter plants — particularly in the U.S. and Ontario, so as to free up space in its Quebec plants to handle hogs meant for Vallee-Jonction.

Olymel’s four other Quebec hog slaughter plants, meanwhile, “are operating at maximum capacity despite labour constraints and applying strict sanitary measures,” the company said June 10.

The company also granted June 10 that the strike “is putting upward pressure on the number of hogs ready for slaughter, which has now reached 90,000,” but is “exploring all options that could help reduce the number of hogs waiting for slaughter and avoid euthanasia at the farm.”

The Vallee-Jonction plant, in business since 1965, today has capacity to slaughter about 35,000 hogs per week. The plant in 2016 added a ham deboning line that was expected to bring its total workforce to about 1,200.

According to Olymel, the plant produces boned products, pork cuts and fresh chilled pork, mostly for export markets, mainly Japan, the U.S. and Mexico.

Source— Glacier FarmMedia Network