VALLEE-JONCTION, Quebec — After bosses refused to respond to the union’s April 19 proposal for wage increases, and then refused to show up for a scheduled negotiating session, more than 1,000 unionized meatpackers at Olymel’s large pork slaughtering plant walked off the job April 28. The strikers are members of the Union of Olymel Workers at Vallee-Jonction (STOVJ), which is affiliated with the Council of National Trade Unions (CSN). Between 35,000 and 37,000 hogs are killed and processed at this plant each week.
Olymel, the largest pork producer in Canada, operates packinghouses in five provinces with some 15,000 workers overall.
The union’s six-year contract expired March 30. “The key issues in the strike are respect and wages,” Denis Vachon, a plant mechanic for 40 years, told the Militant at a spirited picket line of more than 150 workers April 30 in the rain.
Like many other packinghouse workers in North America, meatpackers here have worked in the face of conditions exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Last October some 80 cases and one death were reported by the union.
“In 2007 the union narrowly accepted 38% wage cuts because Olymel was threatening to close the plant,” union President Martin Maurice told the Militant. In 2015 Olymel once again threatened to shut the plant. The union went on strike for more than two weeks, but only succeeded in getting wage increases of 2% in the first two years and 1.5% following that. “We work for peanuts,” Maurice told the press.
Stickers reading “On strike soon,” put up before the walkout, were plastered all over the front of the plant. Many workers talked about the punishing line speed and the high rate of injuries. Since 2015, some 1,800 workers have been hired at Olymel, and 1,700 have quit.
“It’s good to know there are people behind our union struggles,” Dominic Trépanier told this Militant reporter, who came from Montreal to show solidarity. Many passing cars, including vehicles driven by area farmers, honked in support of the striking workers.
The union and bosses are now scheduled to meet with a conciliator May 5. The company has said it will present its wage offer then.
Solidarity messages and contributions for strikers can be sent to Syndicat de Travailleurs d’Olymel, Vallee-Jonction, 243 Rue Principle, Vallee-Jonction, QC G0S 3J0.