© — Telegram file photo
A Labatt Breweries official says, contrary to a statement made by the union representing striking St. John’s workers, the company has not demanded a 20 per cent cut in benefits.
Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, which represents about 50 workers on strike from Labatt, issued a statement Thursday that said the company wants, among other concessions, a 20 per cent cut in medical and dental benefits, no medical benefits for retirees from now on, and a removal of the no-contracting out clause.
But Labatt spokesman Wade Keller said the company hasn’t demanded a 20 per cent reduction in benefits.
Current retirees not affected by proposed changes
“The union’s assertion that the company wants to cut pension and benefits by 20 per cent is simply not true,” Keller said Friday. The company has asked, he said, for union members to contribute 20 per cent of the premium for pension and benefits, something the company has paid 100 per cent of in the past.
“The company, in this round, is asking that the employees start contributing to that premium. And that’s no different than what our salaried employees do. I do that. Our salaried employees in Newfoundland do that. Other unionized employees in other parts of the country do that. We all wish these were the good old days, when companies funded pensions 100 per cent, but those days are gone. There are very few companies that fund pensions 100 per cent, and we’re asking the employees to make a contribution.”
Asked about the other concessions mentioned in the union’s news release, Keller said he’s not on the negotiating team.
“But I do know that any current retirees are not affected by anything,” he said. “I don’t want to get into every single specific, and next week they send out another news release with a bunch of assertions and then we come back and it ends up this big negotiating ploy in the media. I don’t want to go through every single one. And quite honestly, I don’t know the exact details of our entire proposal, because I’m not on the negotiating team. I would point out Carol Furlong’s not either.”
There have been no negotiations since mid-March. Labatt workers walked off the job illegally, following a request from Labatt for them to train workers — Keller said one union worker was asked to train “two or three” replacements — who would work at a plant in the event of a strike. As of this week, though, after a formal, unanimous strike vote by workers, the strike is legal. There are about 30 people now running the brewery, said Keller, most of whom are salaried workers. About 10 of them are from outside the province, he said, half of them Labatt employees and the other half contract workers. He said production hasn’t taken a hit yet.
“It’s different, for sure, but I talk to the plant manager every day, and he assures us that everything is going very well,” he said.