On the Picket Line

Quebec poultry workers make gains, defend right to strike

By Joe Young
July 19, 2021

MONTREAL — Some 550 poultry workers at the Exceldor packinghouse, who went on strike May 23, made gains in a new contract and defended their right to strike. The plant is in Saint-Anselme, south of Quebec City. 

By a vote of 66% in favor, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1991-P members adopted a six-year contract. They went out to fight for a significant wage increase and improvements in working conditions in the plant. 

“What we did is big, go out for one month. We are capable of standing up,” Noel Rouillard, who has worked in the plant for 36 years, told the Militant  by phone June 30. “We had the new immigrants with us.” The company hires workers from abroad to work in the plant on two-year contracts. 

Wages will increase right away to 23.85 Canadian dollars ($19.35), and to CA$25 by 2025, along with additional cost-of-living increases. The company had offered CA$22.51. 

“Many weren’t happy but the majority was,” Paulin Komlan Aboly, who works in sanitation, said June 28. “They didn’t give everything we wanted in wages, but we got more than the company offered.” Both workers said the union has been strengthened by their fight. 

Another major issue was the bosses’ refusal to give vacation pay to workers who had gone out on disability, as well as overcharging them on insurance contributions. The workers, like Aboly, who has been off work a couple of times since 2013, will now get compensated. 

The Quebec government tried to strong-arm the union to end its strike and accept compulsory arbitration.  Trying to pressure the workers to agree, Quebec Premier Francois Legault charged that the strikers were responsible for the “indecent waste” of a million chickens who were slaughtered because they couldn’t be processed at the struck plant. 

This anti-union campaign was promoted by big businesses, like the St-Hubert rotisserie chain, but the union stood its ground. “If we go that way, it will take away our power of negotiation,” UFCW shop steward Jacques Roy said, defending their right to strike. “That takes away our right to demonstrate and our means of applying pressure.” 

Over 1,000 fellow packinghouse workers, members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, have been on strike at the Olymel pork plant in Vallee-Jonction, 30 minutes away from Saint-Anselme, since April 28. Olymel strikers have backed the workers at Exceldor, sending busloads to join picketing there. 

Send messages and contributions to Syndicat des Travailleurs d’Olymel, Vallee-Jonction, 243 Rue Principale, Vallee-Jonction, QC G0S 3J0.