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   Vol. 69/No. 14           April 11, 2005  
Quebec poultry workers reject contract
MONTREAL—After more than six months on strike, 80 percent of the 86 members of the Volailles Marvid Workers Union voted against the company’s “final offer” on March 23. It was the third time the workers had rejected a company offer since the strike began on Sept. 13, 2004. This time the offer was accompanied by a company warning that if the unionists did not sign the contract by March 25, the bosses would shut down the plant.

The Marvid plant is the largest kosher chicken slaughterhouse in Quebec.

The proposed contract fell far short of the union’s demand for a guaranteed minimum workweek of 30 hours. The company offered a five-year agreement that included a guaranteed 29 hours a week to a worker currently employed, excluding new hires. The minimum workweek would increase to 30 hours for the second year, 31 for the third, and 32 for the fourth year. However, this offer would start only a year after the contract is signed. Total yearly hours guaranteed would include all legal holidays, vacations, sick leaves, or other absences.

Hours lost due to lateness, absences, or disciplinary action would be deducted from the guaranteed number of hours. Under the company proposal, the bosses would compensate for any hours below the minimum at the end of each year, and payments would only go to those who worked the full year. In the year and a half before the strike, workers regularly put in only 15 to 20 hours a week.

In another attack on the union, the company offer demanded “complete mobility” of the workforce. For example, if less than 90,000 chickens are slaughtered in a given week, a worker could be transferred into up to three departments for a minimum of one week. “The bosses will use this to disorganize us, to hit us over the head, in a selective manner,” said Carlo Désir, president of the union, “and if we sign, I don’t know how many hours of work we’ll get, or how many of us will get back in.”

Total wage increases offered over the five-year contract ranged from 65 cents to a little more than a dollar an hour, depending on job classification.

The negotiating committee made no recommendation on the proposed contract, leaving it up to the members to decide.

At the beginning of the two-hour meeting, union members were informed by a official from the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), to which the union is affiliated, that the company had already initiated plant closure procedures, including canceling contracts.

Just before the vote was taken, workers broke into their union chant, adapted from a carnival tune from Haiti. One line says, “We don’t want to be fooled, and we don’t want to be feathered.” The vote, which was counted in front of the entire membership, was 69 against and 17 in favor.

“I'm very satisfied with the vote we’ve just taken,” said Ruth, a workers of Haitian origin who has worked at the plant for 23 years. “We don’t want to go back on our knees. We want to work under decent conditions, not like slaves. We’ve waged a hard fight for six months and we deserve to be treated with respect, to work in peace.” Some 80 percent of the strikers are originally from Haiti.

Désir reported that an hour after the boss was informed of the vote, the company lawyer told the union the owners would close the plant March 31.  
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