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Viterra’s Sask. elevator workers take deal

Unionized staff at the Saskatchewan elevators of Canada’s largest grain company have voted in favour of a new contract, bringing labour peace to Viterra in its home province.

Members of the Grain Services Union (GSU) had mounted pickets at just eight of the company’s Saskatchewan grain elevators in recent weeks at the start of what’s usually their busy harvest season.

All of the 570-odd members of the Saskatchewan maintenance and operations unit were back on the job, however, while voting on Viterra’s latest offer over 10 days.

“The ballots have been counted and 87 per cent of those voting have voted to approve the proposed new collective agreement between GSU and Viterra,” the GSU said in a release Thursday.

“We have advised company management of the union members’ decision and we are waiting for confirmation that Viterra’s board of directors have also ratified their final offer,” GSU general secretary Hugh Wagner said.

Despite the pickets, Viterra said in a release Thursday that services at its country locations were “uninterrupted” during this summer’s labour dispute.

“Common platform”

“Our goal is to have a common labour platform across Viterra, and today’s announcement represents another important step towards achieving that,” said Colleen Vancha, Viterra’s vice-president of investor relations and corporate affairs, in Thursday’s release.

“These employees now have long-term labour stability, with market-based compensation and benefits, and the same fair and flexible terms and conditions enjoyed by the majority of our employees across our company, including our managers,” she said.

Viterra said its five-year contract offer to the GSU is for a six per cent compensation payment on signing and annual raises, based on performance, of up to six, five, five and five per cent. The agreement also offers an annual incentive program that could add to an employee’s total compensation in the range of five, 10 and 15 per cent of their pay.

Viterra’s 850-odd GSU members — about a fifth of the company’s total staff, including subsidiaries — also include about half of its head office staff in Regina, who picketed the firm’s Victoria Avenue headquarters for almost three months this summer. The head office unit of about 200 workers then voted Sept. 16 in favour of Viterra’s latest offer.

The GSU also represents workers at a handful of Viterra’s inland terminals in Manitoba and Alberta that were formerly branded as AgPro Grain. The AgPro unit voted in June to take the offer that the other two units rejected.

Viterra in July 2007 applied to the Canadian Industrial Relations board to combine its three bargaining units of GSU employees into just one such unit. The company said hearings on the matter were held in March this year, with more hearings scheduled.

“If the Canadian Industrial Relations Board agrees with the corporation’s one-unit application, it may order the employees to vote as to whether they want to be represented by the GSU or not,” Viterra said in a quarterly financial report in June.

“The end result may be that the GSU no longer represents the employees of Viterra.”

The GSU’s representation of a portion of Viterra staff carried over from its representation of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool employees. SaskPool took over its larger (and largely non-union) Winnipeg-based rival Agricore United last year and merged the two firms as Viterra.

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