Food giant officials speak out after 800 London workers reject labour deal

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It was a rare move in the world of collective bargaining.

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UPDATE, MARCH 30: Cargill spokesperson April Nelson issued a statement to The London Free Press after their 800 local workers rejected a labour deal: “Over several months, our company and the union representing employees at our facility in London, Ontario, have exchanged multiple comprehensive proposals with the goal of reaching a new collective agreement. Unfortunately, employees voted to reject the proposal that was accepted by the Union Bargaining Committee. Since then, we have continued to work in good faith toward a revised agreement. We believe the proposal is fair and representative of our values to put people first and do the right thing.”

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It was a rare move in the world of collective bargaining.

The union representing more than 800 workers at Cargill Canada in London bargained a second tentative agreement with the company, hours after workers rejected the first offer, a union official said Tuesday.

Employees at the chicken processing plant were called to a ratification vote Sunday night at the Best Western Lamplighter Inn to vote on a deal its union recommend they accept.

The employees soundly rejected the offer by a vote of 62 per cent.

When the union told the company of the rejection, and the looming strike deadline at midnight Monday, the company asked the union to return to the table.

It worked.

The two sides bargained all day and evening Monday to get a deal before the Monday midnight deadline.

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“It’s bizarre,” said Sam Caetano, director with the United Food and Commercial Workers, who bargained the agreements.

It is rare to have a company go back to the table immediately after a rejection and before a strike deadline.

But the workers wanted to send a message they see themselves as front-line workers in a pandemic and would not settle for less, Caetano said.

“We are seeing the same thing at all of these industrial food suppliers. All through COVID they worked in person, they worked from home, they had to work with PPE, they had new equipment, they had shifts changed, new lunch breaks and on top of that, inflation, with gas and food prices rising.”

In other words, they are fed up and willing to fight, Caetano said.

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ANALYSIS: London factory strike underscores growing worker resolve

“It is all about money. They want to retain their middle-class lifestyle and that is hard to do.”

Cargill Canada could not be reached for comment.

Caetano declined to reveal details of the offer until the deal is approved but said the second agreement is “a significant improvement” over the first.

“They improved the monetary offer. There was just not enough money in the first deal.”

Workers vote Wednesday on the new offer.

Cargill slaughters and processes chicken for all McDonald’s restaurants in Canada. Monetary issues, such as wages and benefits, were key issues in the talks.

London’s agri-food sector saw an eight-day strike end in February when Dr. Oetker workers agreed to a three-year contract. The deal with more than 230 workers at the frozen pizza maker includes:

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  • $1 an hour increase in the first year for most workers, and 40 cents an hour more in each following year of the deal.
  • 50 cents an hour in the first year for bakery workers and 40 cents an hour more in each year of the final two years.
  • $1,500 signing bonus for bakery workers, other workers get $850.
  • Sanitation and warehouse workers get $1.50 an hour more in the first year and 40 cents an hour more in each of the final two years. Sanitation and warehouse workers got a larger hourly increase because they were below the provincial average for workers. Bakery workers, prior to the agreement, made about $26 an hour.

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