Striking Labatt Brewery workers walk the picket line Thursday afternoon outside the brewery on Leslie Street in St. John’s. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Negotiations between Labatt and the union representing striking brewery workers broke off after only half an hour Thursday, with the two sides no closer to reaching an agreement.
“We presented what we would term our best offer, and (the) indication from the union was that it wasn’t acceptable for them,” Labatt spokesman Wade Keller said Thursday afternoon.
The company publicly released its offer at stjohnsbrewery.ca Thursday, the first time since the strike began in late March that the terms of the company’s offer have been released.
“We’re very concerned that there’s a lot of misinformation out there, so we have actually sent a letter to all of our employees, unionized and non-unionized, outlining the facts around the offer.”
Keller said Labatt employees made, on average, $81,000 last year, including overtime, and the seven-year package offered by the company includes wage increases of several thousand dollars. Keller said the contentious points include the company’s request that employees begin contributing to their pension plan starting in 2016, Year 3 of the deal.
“And in Year 4 of the deal, we are asking that we have a co-pay system when it comes to benefits, so it would be 80 per cent paid by the company, and 20 per cent paid by the employees,” he said.
The union sees that as a concession, said Keller, as it does the company’s proposal to tie some wage increases to performance. For operators and kettlemen, set wage increases are one per cent in years 1, 4 and 7, while achievement-based compensation ranges from $1,055.78 in the first year to $3,231 in the seventh year. Mechanics, electricians and engineers have been offered a three per cent increase in the first year of the deal, and one per cent raises in years 4 and 7, with bonuses starting at a potential $1,118.09 and running to $3,635.91.
“It’s a bonus system that is in place for all of our salaried employees, and in fact all of these principles are in place in one form or another in other breweries in Canada, so we’re trying to maintain consistency throughout,” said Keller.
The other contentious point, said Keller, is a new wage tier for new hires, with a starting rate of $22 an hour, working out to about $46,000 a year.
“That would be for jobs that don’t require specific skills. So the tradespeople, that wouldn’t apply to anybody coming in working as an electrician, mechanic, but someone working on a machine that turns out cardboard boxes or cuts the bottoms of boxes on bottle returns. It wouldn’t affect anyone currently working at the brewery, but it would come into effect for any new hires.”
Keller said the company doesn’t know where negotiations stand now, although today’s planned talks have been cancelled.
“It’s hard to say if it’s a walking-away. We don’t know exactly where we stand. We’ve given the union our offer, and they’ve indicated that they’re not going to accept that offer, so we’re unclear where things go now.”
A union spokesman said the union considers negotiations to still be ongoing and would not comment Thursday.
The spokesman said the union would update its members Thursday night on the
status of talks with Labatt.