NAPE claims company wants too many concessions from workers
Striking Labatt workers stand outside the plant on Leslie Street in St. John's in this Telegram file photo.
Talks towards a new collective agreement between Labatt management and striking plant workers in St. John's have broken down.
The conciliator told both sides Monday afternoon that there did not appear to be a point in continuing discussions on a new collective agreement for the time being.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) had recently tabled a new proposal. According to NAPE secretary treasurer Bert Blundon, the employer decided it would not respond to the proposal.
Blundon said the current impasse is a result of the multinational corporation's efforts to seek major concessions from its employees.
"We have no major items left at the bargaining table," he said. "Our goal this round of bargaining was to get a salary increase and to obviously maintain the rights and benefits we currently have under the agreement."
While the union is still working with Labatt on a salary structure, Blundon said he would not consider salary to be the main stumbling block. He cites Labatt's demands to make changes to insurance benefits for retirees, wage rates for new employees, temporary workers' rights, medical expense coverage, and pensions as the main sticking points.
"Those are the major issues, and as we indicated to the employer, we don't believe that there's any reasonable person that would agree to those types of concessions."
Labatt workers at the St. John's brewery initially engaged in a wildcat strike on March 25 after they were asked to train replacement workers in advance of an anticipated strike. Approximately 50 workers have been legally on strike since early April.
Wade Keller, Labatt's director of corporate affairs for Atlantic Canada, said the company intends to stay in touch with the conciliator with an eye towards eventually returning to the bargaining table with NAPE.
"We're willing to talk and work to get a deal, but only if there's a basis to get things done," he said.
As for the issues brought up by NAPE in relation to what it considers concessions requested by the company, Keller declined to directly address them in a public forum.
"I think it's best to leave the issues at the bargaining table with the two sides that are trying to reach a deal," he said.
"We have presented what we feel is a fair offer to the employees, one that continues to provide the employees with a very attractive employment package. At the same time though, we recognize the marketplace has changed and continues to change, and we need to work together - that's everyone at the brewery, the unionized employees and management - to ensure we remain competitive."
Keller said Labatt remains committed to playing a role in the community at large during the strike. Blundon meanwhile questions whether the company deserves the public's support.
"I think the second part of this whole debate, people of Newfoundland and Labrador have to question ... whether they want to continue to support the brand and the product when we have people from outside the province coming in taking the jobs here of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with a singular goal of making sure that people lose huge benefits that they've worked for - for many, many years," said Blundon.
He said the presence of replacement workers makes the bargaining process more of a challenge, but hopes Labatt will eventually return to the bargaining table with an offer that treats its employees fairly.
Blundon says the plant is operating well below its capacity, and said the striking workers have heard reports that some places are finding it difficult to get their full orders from Labatt.
"We've also observed beer in the stores now that's out of date. Where that beer is coming from, who knows, but we do know that as an industry, stale-dated beer is not an acceptable practice."
Told about the union's comment concerning plant operations, Keller said production is going well at the brewery.
"I know for a fact last week, beer produced on Tuesday was in the market by Friday," he said. "I would say that if you look hard enough, you can find beer that has been on the shelf for a little while. That's not an unusual circumstance that can be found just about at any time."
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