Strike clouds looming

Terry Roberts
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OCI workers voting; company ready to 'give a bit'

Just as the recent crab dispute fades from the headlines, another clash is brewing in the troubled fishing industry.

Roughly 1,200 unionized workers with Ocean Choice International (OCI) have begun a strike vote that could severely cripple one of the province's largest seafood producers.

Just as the recent crab dispute fades from the headlines, another clash is brewing in the troubled fishing industry.

Roughly 1,200 unionized workers with Ocean Choice International (OCI) have begun a strike vote that could severely cripple one of the province's largest seafood producers.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations, workers began casting ballots Thursday afternoon. The voting continues today, and the results will be known Saturday, said Ben Baker, a negotiator with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union (FFAW).

But there were indications Thursday afternoon that the company was willing to "give a bit" in order to avert a strike.

CEO Martin Sullivan said there has been an exchange between the two sides over the previous 24 hours.

"We've told them we're willing to sit and discuss further and to look at options, but it can't be just a one-sided discussion.

"Both parties will have to come to the table and give a bit if we're going to avert job action," Sullivan said.

But he continued to emphasize the need for flexibility in a new contract in order to remain competitive.

For instance, the company wants to pay time-and-a-half to its employees when they work on Sunday. Currently, it pays double-time.

"Right now it's prohibitive to operate with those costs, vis-a-vis our competitors."

The employees work at six OCI plants throughout the province - crab plants in Triton and Bonavista, shrimp plants in Port au Choix and Port Union, and groundfish plants in Marystown and Dildo.

Baker acknowledged Thursday there had been some contact with the company, but he said, "there's no give there."

The dispute is over money.

The company has offered an overall increase to a wage of $13.25 per hour in Year 1 and $13.45 in Year 2. Those who work in maintenance trades have also been offered a "significant increase."

Workers currently earn an average salary of $13.

The company argues that the expired collective agreement is the highest total compensation agreement in the province's seafood industry, and says its new offer will maintain that position.

It cites challenges in the industry such as market conditions, the high Canadian dollar and a worldwide economy that is still recovery from recession for its bargaining position.

But the union says the company is trying to strip benefits such as overtime, vacation and statutory holidays.

It also complains that the salary offer is insulting to workers who already made concessions when the plants were owned by Fishery Products International.

"It's a hard pill to swallow," said Baker. He added that workers lost 20 cents off their hourly wage in January after a transition fund that came with the sale of Fishery Products to OCI expired.

Baker expects a strong strike mandate, and feels the workers are ready to take a stand.

"There's only so far you can be backed into a corner before you come out fighting," he said.

He also challenged the company's assertion that its workers are the highest paid in the industry.

He said employees at Beothic Fish Processors in Valleyfield, High Liner Foods in Burin, and Grand Bank Seafoods earn more.

Sullivan said Beothic workers have a higher hourly wage, but fall behind OCI on the overall compensation package. And he explained that High Liner and Grand Banks Seafoods operate valued-added plants.

He cautioned that there are no winners in a strike, and said OCI remains ready to talk.

"If they're willing to discuss the final offer we made to them, and be flexible, then there are some things we're willing to discuss," he said.

Baker said the union will not set a date for strike action until after the vote is completed.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: OCI, Allied Workers, Fishery Products International High Liner Foods Grand Banks Seafoods

Geographic location: Triton, Bonavista, Port au Choix and Port Union Marystown Valleyfield Burin Grand Bank

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Recent comments

  • Randy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    These sullivans are all related to the great Danny Conservative Loyola,,They all surpported the detruction of FPI and the fpi act..now fishing towns will suffer the consequences of Danny's actions..Non -union conservative surpporter Bill Barry may take it all over

  • greg
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    These fish merchants just tried to take 20 million dollars on the crabbers and lost. They will now try their hand with the shore-workers. Its not good enough to make money on fish sales anymore, they want to steal from workers too. Their licence should be taken and given to co-ops to ensure rural nl survives. Nothing will survive with that company.

  • bayman
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    STRIKE ??? If thats what they want , let them have it. BUT !!! I certainly hope that the government don't come up with PROJECTS later this year to STAMP them up !!! But then again we all know they will ....

  • wannaB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Here is an idea!
    OCI pay Jackman a heafty bonus to squeeze through the regulations and ship the product to China. (well Danny gotta get a cut too)
    The taxpayers then pay for make work projects to pay the plant workers. Its a win- loose situation.
    LET WHOEVER WANTS TO BUY - BUY!!
    It is Economics 001!

  • Tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Strip benefits such as vacation? Don't they have a 9 month vacation in the off season anyways? And to Ship it to China, how is sorting crab at the fish plant worth any more money than flipping burgers? It's not a skilled trade, it's manual labour.

  • Ship it
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    13 bucks an hour, you can make that flipping burgers.........and they still can't make a go of it in the processing sector.

  • Corner
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Way to go Jackman!!
    Give OCI special treatment to ship yellowtail to China!! I guess this is all in the grand scheme of things.........
    The workers are not in the plants though!! Be a man and allow competition instead of lining your pockets from the Sullivans!!
    Or will you do like ya done to the fishermen and encourage them back to the table in other words take what the processors give you! Satnd up for the people.thats what you were elected and getting paid to do. How quick you forgot......but don't come knocking next time you weasel.

  • Randy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    These sullivans are all related to the great Danny Conservative Loyola,,They all surpported the detruction of FPI and the fpi act..now fishing towns will suffer the consequences of Danny's actions..Non -union conservative surpporter Bill Barry may take it all over

  • greg
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    These fish merchants just tried to take 20 million dollars on the crabbers and lost. They will now try their hand with the shore-workers. Its not good enough to make money on fish sales anymore, they want to steal from workers too. Their licence should be taken and given to co-ops to ensure rural nl survives. Nothing will survive with that company.

  • bayman
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    STRIKE ??? If thats what they want , let them have it. BUT !!! I certainly hope that the government don't come up with PROJECTS later this year to STAMP them up !!! But then again we all know they will ....

  • wannaB
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Here is an idea!
    OCI pay Jackman a heafty bonus to squeeze through the regulations and ship the product to China. (well Danny gotta get a cut too)
    The taxpayers then pay for make work projects to pay the plant workers. Its a win- loose situation.
    LET WHOEVER WANTS TO BUY - BUY!!
    It is Economics 001!

  • Tom
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Strip benefits such as vacation? Don't they have a 9 month vacation in the off season anyways? And to Ship it to China, how is sorting crab at the fish plant worth any more money than flipping burgers? It's not a skilled trade, it's manual labour.

  • Ship it
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    13 bucks an hour, you can make that flipping burgers.........and they still can't make a go of it in the processing sector.

  • Corner
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Way to go Jackman!!
    Give OCI special treatment to ship yellowtail to China!! I guess this is all in the grand scheme of things.........
    The workers are not in the plants though!! Be a man and allow competition instead of lining your pockets from the Sullivans!!
    Or will you do like ya done to the fishermen and encourage them back to the table in other words take what the processors give you! Satnd up for the people.thats what you were elected and getting paid to do. How quick you forgot......but don't come knocking next time you weasel.