September 5, 2008


Viterra's country elevator workers launch strike


Country elevator workers at Viterra Inc.'s grain terminal at Balgonie, Saskatchewan, established their first picket line early Thursday (September 4) in an effort to force the company back into productive collective bargaining, an official with the Grain Services Union (GSU) said.


Balgonie is located about 25 kilometers east of Regina, Saskatchewan.


The GSU represents Viterra's estimated 650 country elevator operators and maintenance employees as well as the company's 200 office workers in Regina, Saskatchewan.


"Employees from the facility along with a group of the office workers from Regina set up the picket line early Thursday," said Hugh Wagner, GSU general secretary.


Wagner said the strike action was part of a plan agreed to last week by the country elevator operators and maintenance personnel to begin escalating job action against Viterra due to the lack of progress on a new collective labour agreement.


"While the picket lines are up, we are not turning away producers," Wagner said, adding that unionized employees were not trying to inconvenience the farm community. "However, we are holding up Viterra management with the picket line."


Representatives from Viterra could not immediately be reached for comment.


Wagner would not disclose what the next step would be, but he indicated that the GSU will be watching to see Viterra's response to the action.


"When the GSU previously said it would hold rotating strike action at Viterra's Saskatchewan elevators, the company wrote us a letter and threatened to lock out anyone who honored or joined the picket lines," Wagner said.


Meanwhile, Wagner said mediated talks between GSU and Viterra representatives did take place on Wednesday afternoon in regard to the ongoing strike action by the office workers in Regina.


"I don't want to put too much emphasis on it, but the meeting was productive and there was a useful exchange of information on the issues," Wagner said. "We put forward some areas and ideas for a compromise resolution that would end the dispute."


Wagner said that if he understood the company's response correctly, Viterra was considering and reflecting on those ideas, and was planning on getting back to GSU officials and the mediator for dates to resume negotiations.


There were also some discussions on dates in which negotiations on behalf of the country elevator operators and maintenance workers can resume as well, Wagner said.


Viterra, the new operating name for Saskatchewan Wheat Pool after its acquisition of Agricore United, is in a contract dispute with some 200 unionized employees at its headquarters and as many as 650 grain elevator workers in Saskatchewan.


The Saskatchewan workers voted in June to reject the company's last contract offer. The workers at Viterra's head office in Regina began striking at one minute after midnight local time on July 7.

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