Nearly 200 workers at Lilydale Foods’ northeast Edmonton turkey processing plant began a strike Monday after wage negotiations broke down last week.
UFCW Local 1118 served strike notice to Lilydale for all hourly, unionized employees at the plant on Saturday.
“We’re looking to get similar wages to our counterparts in the other (Lilydale) plants, like in Calgary,” said lead negotiator John Ventura.
“We’re doing heavier work with turkeys and we’re getting $1.28 less (on average) than them. So, we’re just looking for fairness, to be treated the same.”
Bargaining broke down last week.
“The company was just dragging their feet, not dealing with the issues,” Ventura said. “Then at the end, they finally put a monetary proposal in front of us but it wasn’t sufficient.”
Lilydale followed the strike notice by serving a notice of lockout, locking out all employees represented by the union. The plant is now closed.
“Hopefully the company will come back to the table and we’ll come up with a deal that both sides can live with,” Ventura said. “The sooner they want to talk, the better.”
While the dispute centres on wages, employees are also looking to get a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week.
Dolly Parmar has worked at the plant for nearly 34 years.
Over the years, she has noticed that fewer people are working each shift, which means those on the floor must sometimes double their share of work, while the wages have stayed the same.
The plant used to process chickens but has moved exclusively to slaughtering and processing turkeys and other heavy fowl, a labour-intensive process.
“It’s a big difference, it’s hard work,” Parmar said.
Senior production workers are paid $17.50 per hour, which isn’t enough to raise a family, workers on the picket line said.
The plant processes between nine and 11 turkeys a minute.
Parmar said she was told the company regards turkey processing as seasonal work, though the plant is supposed to run year-round. Employees have recently experienced layoffs as a result of “no-kill weeks,” where no birds are slaughtered.
Stephanie Gillis-Paulgaard, spokeswoman for Lilydale Foods, said negotiations between the employer and the union have been going on since March.
Gillis-Paulgaard said she could not discuss the offer that was made, but did say the company thinks it was fair and reasonable.
“We are open and committed to working with the union to come to an agreement,” she said,
She said the company does have a contingency plan but would not discuss details and would not say whether wages were calculated depending on the type of the bird processed.
This is the first labour disruption at the northeast plant. The union and the employer have reached several successful agreements before.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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