The membership meeting of Local 1518 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) was called to discuss a letter the company had sent to each locked-out worker. The letter outlined a buyout package, gave a figure of how much each member would receive, and asked workers to reply by February 23 as to whether or not they would accept the offer. The buyout, which amounts to less than $1,000 a year for senior workers, would be paid in three installments over three years only after workers had returned to the job for six months.
Workers also received a letter from Ross Bremner, executive vice president of the union, telling them that "the reason for the concept of a buyout is an effort to create room for new employees to come in at the new second tier rate of pay. If there are enough people that take the offer of a buyout this will assist in protecting the current rates of pay for those employees who do not take the buyout and return to work."
Many workers objected to the company going around the union by contacting workers individually about the buyout. Others pointed out that the company has said nothing about proposed pay rates or benefits under a new contract. Some workers also opposed the company's proposal to establish a permanent two-tiered wage structure. Under the old contract workers' starting pay was $8.00 an hour, roughly half of what they earn after three years of steady employment. The company wants to deny workers hired under the new contract the possibility of ever getting close to the top rate.
"I'd rather see this place close down than have new people working for half of what we were making," said Tony. "I don't want to see this place turned into slave jobs. It can have a domino effect. It can affect our children. This concession stuff will be knocking on our door in our future jobs."
Nancy Darlington, who works on the wiener line, was concerned that a permanent two-tier wage structure would create divisions among the workers and in the union. "No one wants to work beside someone who is getting much more for the same job. Its not fair. The company proposal is garbage!"
Workers said the company has so far refused to pay for holidays that workers had not taken before they were locked out. The union officials say they have negotiated an agreement for the company to pay for outstanding holidays from 1999 through March 9, 2001.
One worker, Coconut, was skeptical of the company's promise on holiday pay. "Let's wait and see, because they have told us many lies. They said before we would have it by the end of 2000, but it's already February" he explained.
After the meeting several workers talked to the Militant about ways they can strengthen their fight against the company's antiunion drive.
Andy Woellman, a meat cutter, urged the union to resume its boycott campaign and to start leafleting at supermarkets again, asking people not to buy products produced by Fletcher's or Superior Poultry. Workers at Superior Poultry, who are also members of UFCW Local 1518, have been on strike since July fighting for a first contract and union recognition.
The union had suspended the leafleting campaign during negotiations at the request of the two companies, the British Columbia (B.C.) government-appointed mediator in the Fletcher's dispute, and the B.C. Labour Relations Board, which is intervening in the Superior Poultry strike.
Woellman also pointed to the example of a recent rally held by nurses in British Columbia to bring pressure to bear in their contract negotiations. In addition, "all the [meatpacking] workers across Canada should stick together" to defeat the companies drive for wage cuts and other concessions, he said.
Shop steward Ian McLean encouraged fellow union members to have "a much stronger presence on the picket lines with people wearing signs and carrying banners. We should also go to other workplaces like Grimm's and Britco when they're going in and out on shift changes" and tell workers about our fight, McLean proposed. Grimm's Fine Foods, which is owned by Fletcher's, is the other UFCW-organized meatpacking plant in the Vancouver area. Britco Export Packers is a nonunion meatpacking plant where a number of locked-out Fletcher's workers have found jobs.
Steve Penner is a meat packer at Britco. Derrick O'Keefe works at Grimm's and is a member of UFCW Local 2000.
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