XL Foods has announced plans to permanently close Saskatchewan’s only federally inspected beef packing plant within the next three months, media in that province reported Friday.
The XL Beef plant at Moose Jaw hasn’t been fully staffed since April last year, when the company laid off its staff for the summer, then locked them out in September as the layoff period ended.
“The market conditions and the fact that we cannot get a viable collective bargaining agreement to allow us to operate the facility have caused us to make this decision,” XL’s co-CEO, Brian Nilsson, was quoted as saying in a statement reported by several Saskatchewan media outlets Friday.
The move reportedly will not affect production at XL’s other beef plants in Alberta or the U.S., and the company was quoted as saying it will continue to “aggressively procure cows, bulls and fed cattle” in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
When Calgary-based XL took over the Moose Jaw plant in 2000, it had capacity to process about 180,000 animals per year.
The decision also means permanent layoffs for about 200 employees at the Moose Jaw plant, about 140 of whom have been picketing there since last September, the Moose Jaw Times Herald said Friday.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1400, which represents the locked-out employees, told the newspaper it plans to remain on the picket line until a closure agreement is reached.
“We would like to negotiate a closure agreement and apply provisions in the collective agreement which allow for severance due to closure,” UFCW 1400 president Norm Neault told the Times Herald’s Rebecca Lawrence.
Contract talks had stalled, the union said previously, over issues such as the company’s proposals to remove severance pay, end a cap on overtime hours, cut maximum vacation time from five weeks to four and impose new limits on guaranteed hours of work per week.
But Neault was quoted Friday on CBC in Saskatchewan as saying XL’s latest decision took the workers by surprise, because XL had recently sought to renew the plant’s accreditation with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Plant managers reportedly slaughtered five cattle at the facility in March to satisfy CFIA inspectors’ requirements.
“Hopefully this is a sign that the employer wants to get the plant back operational (and) wants to get back to the bargaining table with some meaningful negotiations and resume operations as soon as possible,” Neault said at the time.
XL Foods had bought the plant, formerly known as Western Canadian Beef Packers (WCB), from the Saskatchewan government’s Crown Investments Corp. (CIC) in 2000 for $1.9 million, plus “certain liabilities” worth up to $7 million.
WCB had operated in the city since 1991, opening boxed beef operations at the site in 1996. CIC was left with ownership of the plant in 1998.