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Viterra workers picket at Balgonie terminal

With the harvest in full swing in many parts of the Prairies, grain handlers at Viterra's Balgonie terminal near Regina, set-up a picket line. The action is the latest for workers who have been working to rule for two months.

September 5, 2008  By Reuters/Saskatoon Star Phoenix

September 5, 2008

Winnipeg, MB -Grain handlers at Viterra Inc., Canada's largest grain company, set up their first picket line Thursday at a terminal at Balgonie, a Grain Services Union spokesperson said.

But the company said the pickets had no impact on its busy harvest operations and said most unionized employees at the elevator chose to cross the line and continue to work.


"We believe employees' priorities are in the right place," said Colleen Vancha, Viterra's vice-president of investor relations and corporate affairs. "They're focused on the customer and we're quite proud of their support, both for the company and for the offer they put on the table."

More than 600 elevator workers belonging to the union have been working to rule for two months, but decided to launch a series of rotating strikes as harvest gears up, said Hugh Wagner, the union's general secretary.

Wagner said about a dozen union members picketed the elevator, just east of Regina, including three people who work inside. Another three elevator employees crossed the line to go to work, he said.

Viterra officials disagreed, saying only two unionized employees were out on the picket line. Several other employees were not yet scheduled to work Thursday morning.

Managers continued to run the Balgonie elevator, Wagner said, but he said the picket line was hampering operations.

The company has said it would lock out any employees who withdraw services and would continue to keep elevators running in the event of a strike.

The union has said members deserve a better deal on wages and benefits than what Viterra has offered.

The union held an information picket at an elevator in Weyburn on Wednesday and Wagner said workers at other elevators were considering their next steps.

Viterra's Vancha said the fact none of the Weyburn employees joined the picket line showed they support the company's offer.

About 200 other members of the same union at Viterra's head office in Regina have been on strike since early July.

More than 25 per cent of the unionized office workers are crossing the picket lines to go to work, Vancha said.

The company and union met with a mediator to discuss the head office strike Wednesday, Wagner said.

The union proposed compromises on employment terms and wages, and the company said it would propose more dates for talks, Wagner said.

Viterra has also filed for a court injunction to limit picketing at its head office, Wagner said.


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