by DAVE PINK
A Ministry of Labour mediator will meet with representatives of Guelph-based Cargill Meat Solutions and Local 175 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union Thursday in an attempt to head off a work stoppage.
The beef-processing plant, the biggest in Ontario, employs nearly 800 unionized workers. A strike could begin as early as Friday midnight.
Union members have already rejected one company offer that called for wage rollbacks. But union spokesperson Luc Lacelle says the major unresolved issue involves the company’s use of short-term workers during periods of peak production when there are unionized employees on layoff.
“As a union, we don’t have a problem with flex workers when they are needed, as long as nobody’s on layoff,” says Lacelle. “If there are extra hours available we want our members to have access to them.”
Lacelle says the company has also wanted to bring wages at the Guelph plant in line with its other North American operations and its competitors.
"We want to ensure the long-term viability of our business. It's essential that this business remains competitive," said Matt Gibney, the general manager of the Cargill operation in Guelph, who would not discuss any specifics of the negotiations. "It's our hope to resolve this without any sort of labour disruption."
Minneapolis-based Cargill has a world-wide workforce about 140,000 people in the food, agricultural and financial industries. It operates two beef production plants in Canada – the one in Guelph formerly known as Better Beef, and another in High River, Alta. The Guelph plant processes up to 2,000 animals a day, and employs a total workforce of about 1,900 people. Almost all of the cattle processed in Guelph come from Ontario, with some from Quebec. BF