August 30, 2021 - No. 76

Tentative Agreement at Olymel Plant in Vallée-Jonction, Quebec

Olymel Should Negotiate, Not Dictate! Support Olymel Workers!

On August 29, a tentative agreement was reached between Olymel and the Olymel Vallée-Jonction-CSN Workers Union for the renewal of the collective agreement. The union will submit the content of the agreement to its members on August 31.

Workers at the Vallée-Jonction hog slaughterhouse have been on strike since April 28 to back their demands for serious improvements in their wages and working conditions, which they describe as untenable. It is a strike for respect, they say, after their wages, working conditions and pension plan were slashed in 2007, and after a year of exhausting work under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olymel management has shown no respect for the workers and has been threatening to close the plant if the workers do not give up their demands for conditions they deem acceptable. The August 29 tentative agreement itself was reached with a gun to the head of the workers. Olymel has threatened to end the evening shift at the plant, which would eliminate 500 positions, about half of the jobs at the plant. The company announced that layoff notices were ready and would be sent to the 500 affected workers on the morning of August 30 if no agreement was reached between the company and the union by the end of the day on August 29. Olymel is sticking to its threat, and now says it will send out the layoff notices on September 1 if the workers reject the tentative agreement.

On August 17, the workers rejected a tentative agreement reached between the union and the company, deeming it insufficient to meet their demands. According to information provided by the union, the main points that remain in dispute are wages, the length of the collective agreement and work schedules, including the imposition of a ten-hour evening shift, which the workers reject.

The Quebec government, while hypocritically declaring its support for a negotiated settlement, has remained silent on Olymel's attempt to impose its dictate through threats of closure. Increased pressure has also been put on the Vallée-Jonction workers by the monopoly media who blame them for the possible euthanasia of more than 130,000 hogs if the strike continues. They decry the suffering of the hogs crammed together in the heat wave but are silent about the working conditions of the Vallée-Jonction workers, particularly the history of dreadful concessions imposed on them under the threat of closure.

On this subject, the union wrote on August 24:

"In 2007, the Vallée-Jonction employees had a total reduction of nearly 40 per cent of their income imposed on them under the threat of the total closure of the plant. Let's repeat it again: in 14 years, from 2007 to 2021, the lowest paid employees of our plant have seen their base wage increase by a meager $1.13 per hour, or about $0.08 per year.

"For all the employees who have been the recipients of this contempt for so many years, it is clear that Olymel's tactics and attitude will not solve its serious problem of attracting and retaining its workforce, while at the same time threatening the industrial peace necessary for the smooth running of its operations. If pork producers are looking for the real culprit in the current situation, it is Olymel's senior management that must be held accountable. Worse yet, against all logic, by abolishing its evening shift, Olymel will have difficulty catching up with the backlog of hogs that has been building up since the beginning of the labour dispute.

"They may want to blame the union for the hogs that could be euthanized, but it is Olymel that signs the contracts with the farmers, that manages its supplies and that must also reach an agreement with its employees. In the public arena, Olymel seems to be more concerned with the fate of the pigs than with that of its own employees. Imagine how they feel right now."

Workers' Forum reiterates its full support for the Olymel workers in Vallée-Jonction for negotiated conditions that they deem acceptable and their firm opposition to the dictate exercised by Olymel against the workers.

(Photos: CSN)

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