August 6, 2021 - No. 66
Defending the Dignity and Rights of
Quebec Slaughterhouse Workers
No to Government and Company Provocations Against Olymel Workers
• Workers Want to Be Respected by Olymel and We Are Not!
Sudbury Miners Defeat Vale's Demand for Concessions
• Resistance Is the Only Way!
- David Starbuck
Defending the Dignity and Rights of Quebec Slaughterhouse Workers
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
Sudbury Miners Defeat Vale's Demand For Concessions
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.
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
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
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
of labour. The August 3 settlement and ratification vote accomplished
Congratulations to the Sudbury mine, mill, smelter and refinery workers!
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