August 6, 2021 - No. 66

Defending the Dignity and Rights of
Quebec Slaughterhouse Workers

No to Government and Company Provocations Against Olymel Workers
in Vallée-Jonction!

Workers Want to Be Respected by Olymel and We Are Not! - Interview,
Martin Maurice

Sudbury Miners Defeat Vale's Demand for Concessions
Resistance Is the Only Way! - David Starbuck 

Defending the Dignity and Rights of Quebec Slaughterhouse Workers

No to Government and Company Provocations Against Olymel Workers in Vallée-Jonction!

A thousand workers at the Olymel hog slaughter plant in Vallée-Jonction have been on strike since April 28 for wages and working conditions they consider acceptable. The Quebec Minister of Labour and Olymel spokespersons have recently flooded the airwaves to try to smear the workers' reputation. The accusation is that the workers want to prolong the strike, to cause serious damage to Quebec pork producers and that they will be responsible for the euthanasia of 130,000 hogs if the strike is not resolved soon. 

"This has to stop. A labour dispute of this nature cannot be tolerated in Quebec," said Labour Minister Jean Boulet on RDI TV. 

He failed to mention the fact that these workers made huge concessions in wages, pensions and working conditions in 2007 under threat of the imminent closure of the plant, and that the struggle today is to regain ground and win conditions that the workers consider acceptable, including from the point of view of their health and safety. 

Olymel spokespersons have said that the workers are asking for too much, have accused them of jeopardizing the plant's survival and have threatened to transfer the Vallée-Jonction plant's operations elsewhere if the strike does not end.

The workers do not accept the struggle for the dignity of labour being used to threaten their livelihood  or the existence of  industrial facilities. Why should their livelihoods and the well-being of the  local and regional economy not be matters worthy of protection and investment because human beings depend on them, not narrow private interests who only aim is to increase their personal wealth. Such narrow private interests certainly do not care about the workers and they do not care about the hogs or the pork producers either. For the government to cry crocodile tears for the hogs and pork producers is absurd. The workers are also against attempts by the government and company to bring down their union so that every worker will have to fend for themself.

Workers' Forum wholeheartedly supports the struggle of the Olymel workers for their rights.

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Workers Want to Be Respected by
Olymel and We Are Not!

Olymel workers demonstrate at Ministry of Labour office July 7, 2021

Martin Maurice is the President of the Olymel Vallée-Jonction-CSN Workers Union

Workers' Forum: How do you assess the most recent developments regarding the Vallée-Jonction workers' strike?

Martin Maurice: First of all, it is clear that Olymel is not changing its attitude in negotiations. Since the plant has existed, and since the last collective agreement renewal, there have always been threats of closure. Those are still continuing. It's Olymel's way -- making threats all the time to try to crush its people instead of treating the workers with respect.

The media is talking about an impasse in the strike. The impasse is that the employer does not want to put money on the table. We're fighting over 35 cents on a six-year contract right now. The parties are separated by 35 cents on the wage increase. The employer says we are asking for too much. I don't see an impasse otherwise. What remains to be settled is the wage increases.

We had an offer during conciliation. The union was prepared to present that offer to the membership at a meeting, but not to recommend it. The employer was adamant that the union should recommend it, but we wouldn't do so. The employer was not shy about going to the media to attack us. They are doing everything they can to make workers angry, including negotiating in public and threatening to close the plant.

We didn't want to recommend the offer but we did present it to our members. Olymel took great pleasure in coming out publicly against us when we said we were going to go to our members to discuss our mandate and where things stood in negotiations. When we met with our members on Tuesday morning, August 3, to present them with the conciliator's proposal, they were in complete agreement with our not recommending this proposal. The members are behind us, supporting us in saying that we remain ready to negotiate and that the employer must sit down with us and negotiate.

WF: Why is the issue of wages so important to workers at this point in this dispute?

MM: It's related to the whole history of Olymel here. In 2007, we lost nearly 40 per cent of our wage. We no longer have a pension fund. We had to give up everything or else Olymel would have closed. The workers wanted to keep the plant open. It was not the company that kept it open, it was the workers who sacrificed everything. Many left, but others stayed. The employer also wanted to smash everything in the collective agreement. We managed to prevent that but still we see that the employer has no respect for the workers. They are always trying to get more out of us. Between the 2007 wage and today's wage, there is a $1.13 difference. A class one worker earns $20.82 an hour today and in 2007 she or he earned $19.69. Our current demand is for a $5.80 wage increase over the life of the agreement. We were asking for more, and wanted to have an agreement with the employer on that basis. We have reduced our demands and they are still saying it is too much.

We also lost our pension plan in 2007. We don't have a pension plan now. Having a pension plan will not be in this agreement either because of the unacceptable conditions that the employer was demanding from the workers to reinstate a pension plan. We said we would put all our efforts into wages instead but they haven't made an acceptable wage offer either.

Olymel can't say it's not making money. It has increased its sales revenue by 52 per cent in the last three years. The money is flowing, but very little of it goes back to the workers.

We were asking for a three-year collective agreement. During negotiations, we agreed on five years. The employer went up to six years and now they are asking for a seven year agreement. We were clear and firm -- there will be no seven-year collective agreement.

Olymel is stretching out the conflict and trying to say that the impasse is the fault of the union, so that the blame will fall on the union if pigs are slaughtered. We're used to Olymel's methods. It's always trying to scare people, to say that the problem is not them but the workers, but they should look at their side to see where the problem is.

WF: Can you tell us about the health and safety conditions at the workplace?

MM: As far as health and safety in the workplace is concerned, there is a lot of work to be done and there will be more to do all the time. We have 400 work accidents per year. We have to work on prevention and we must not stop working on it. In the last few years, the employer has stopped working on health and safety. There is a lot of work to be done to improve the conditions, to improve the workstations and to ensure that there are fewer work accidents. It's a dangerous job, it's assembly line work. Workers have 30 to 35 seconds to bone a piece and the assembly line never stops.

It's a serious problem to have an employer who doesn't have respect for their workers in the present day. Workers deserve respect and the employer does not respect us. Even when the present conflict is over, I am not sure they will treat us with respect. Our situation will still be difficult.

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum. Photos: CSN)

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Sudbury Miners Defeat Vale's Demand For Concessions

Resistance Is The Only Way!

The twenty-five hundred nickel-copper mine, mill, smelter and refinery workers employed by Vale SA in Sudbury, Ontario have defeated the company's attempt to impose concessions and have ratified a five-year collective agreement after a 64-day strike with a vote of 85 per cent  in favour of the contract, with a turnout of 85 per cent. Vale also increased its monetary offer to six per cent over the life of the contract from four per cent plus cost-of-living adjustments that total $2.46. The workers return to work August 9.

The Sudbury workers had rebuffed a tentative agreement between Vale and the union bargaining committee in which retirement health benefits for new hires were eliminated as were non-prescription drug benefits for all employees. The workers, who had been forced to accept a defined contribution pension plan for new hires after a 360-day strike in 2009-10, have learned that concessions only lead to demands for more concessions and were determined to defend the interests of future generations of workers. They also rebuffed a second offer by Vale which maintained the demand for concessions.

Vale then launched an ideological offensive against the striking workers and their union, appealing to the workers and the Sudbury community directly. According to Vale, the Sudbury mines are the highest cost underground metal mines in the world, ore reserves in Sudbury are running out, and Sudbury operations now only make up two per cent of Vale's worldwide operations, down from five per cent in 2016. The solution, according to Vale, was to decrease the share of the social wealth produced by the workers that goes to retirees in the form of retirement benefits, which Vale claims are onerous and unpredictable. If the Sudbury workers accepted concessions, Vale argued, Vale would have the capital necessary to find new ore reserves and modernize the Sudbury facilities, to ensure the viability of the Sudbury operations for many years into the future. 

These arguments fell upon deaf ears amongst the Sudbury miners and the Sudbury community.

As the strike developed, the shortage of nickel on the international market and an increase in the demand for nickel for electric vehicle batteries contributed to an increase in the price of nickel. It was reported that Vale had sales contracts for the next five years' production. Many of the highly trained, highly skilled and highly experienced Sudbury workers found jobs at other northern Ontario mines, and Vale was faced with the prospect of losing many of its best workers if the strike persisted. Finally, Vale announced a profit of U.S.$7.586 billion in the second quarter of this year, including a hefty contribution from the Sudbury operations, putting the lie to the argument that Vale could not afford to meet the workers' demands.

The Sudbury miners remained determined to follow the path of resistance to Vale's arbitrary and unconscionable demands and to negotiate a contract that did not include concessions, that stood up for future generations of workers, that had terms and conditions of work that were agreeable to the workers themselves and that defended the dignity of labour. The August 3 settlement and ratification vote accomplished this.

Congratulations to the Sudbury mine, mill, smelter and refinery workers!

(Photos: USW6500)

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