FPI plant workers reject companys final offer

Moira Baird
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Earle McCurdy

FPI plant workers will hit the picket lines April 23 following their rejection of the companys latest wage offer of $12.60 per hour.

Thats a $1.06 an hour cut in wages.

Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union (FFAW), says that offer also included concessions in almost every aspect of the plant workers contract.

Among them, major cuts to overtime, vacation pay, statutory holidays, floating holidays all the things that are very important to production workers, said McCurdy.

Theyve attacked chapter and verse of the collective agreement, and people said no.

FPI says it is disappointed workers turned down the contract.

The company had hoped its latest offer, which included an hourly wage rate higher than that recommended by the majority report of the Labour Relations Agencys conciliation board, would be acceptable to the plant employees, the company said in a release.

At the 11th hour, McCurdy says the company added 10 cents per hour to the conciliation boards wage recommendation. The $12.60-per-hour contract would last until the end of this year.

It wasnt enough.

The combination of the wage hit and all these other major cuts that are important to people that really hurt their pocketbooks they werent prepared to take it.

People do have options now. Its not particularly attractive to a lot of people, but if all else fails, I suppose you go elsewhere for work.

He says the conciliation report recommended pretty tough wage cuts of $1.16 per hour, and the company asked for too many concessions.

FPI plant workers earn $13.66 per hour.

There was a conciliation board report that was tough medicine enough, and would have been significant sacrifice for the workforce, and they tried to go way beyond that.

The combination was fatal to getting any kind of acceptance.

FPI says the concessions are key to the companys competitiveness.



Plants uncompetitive

While corporate-wide cost control measures introduced over the past two years have made administration much more efficient, plant operations remain uncompetitive by a significant margin in comparison to other seafood operators in Newfoundland and Labrador, the FPI release says.

Of the more than 935 FPI plant workers who cast ballots this week, 68 per cent voted in favour of striking.

McCurdy notified FPI executive vice-president Graham Roome of the vote results Thursday morning.

The FFAW represents about 1,700 workers at processing plants in Port au Choix, Triton, Bonavista, Port Union, Marystown and Burin, and an off-loading facility at Dildo.

Every single processing plant, in fact, voted in favour of strike action to varying degrees.

McCurdy says quite a number of union members are also working in Alberta.

The last time FPI plant workers went on strike was 1988.

McCurdy doesnt know what effect the strike will have on FPIs efforts to sell its assets.

Newfoundland-based Ocean Choice International is negotiating with FPI to buy its Atlantic Canadian fish harvesting and processing assets.

My understanding is thats very close to either some kind of interim agreement occurring, or the thing falling apart one or the other within a very short period of time.

The timing of this (strike vote) may very well play into that.

For fishermen, the strike means one less fish buyer in the picture, but McCurdy says the province has sufficient processing capacity to absorb their catches.

Its not as though, suddenly, theres nowhere to sell fish, he says.

McCurdy says plant workers dont simply trust the owners and management of FPI.

They dont see the sacrifices at the top, yet theyre being asked to dig really deep into pockets that arent very deep, he said.

The level of trust by the employees of that company with the administration of that company is about as low as its possible to get.

He places the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of businessman John Risley and former federal cabinet minister John Crosbie, who spearheaded the takeover of FPIs boardroom in 2001.

McCurdy says they announced a new era of entrepreneurship that was dawning in the Newfoundland fishery and sold a bill of goods to a bunch of shareholders.

Nobody really asked (for) that change to take place. It happened and its been nothing but trouble for the employees of the company ever since.



mbaird@thetelegram.com

Organizations: FPI, FFAW, Allied Workers union Labour Relations Agencys conciliation board Port Union Ocean Choice International

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Port au Choix, Marystown Burin Alberta

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