Crown Royal workers hit picket line in Gimli
Published Saturday, March 5, 2016 11:08AM CST
Last Updated Saturday, March 5, 2016 6:48PM CST
A labour strike at a Manitoba distillery could put a hitch into production of one of the world’s most popular whiskies.
About 50 workers at the plant -- about an hour north of Winnipeg in Gimli -- that makes Crown Royal walked the picket lines Saturday morning and afternoon.
On Friday, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 at the Diageo plant voted 98 per cent to reject a final offer from the company.
“We don’t often see that kind of a vote for a strike, but I think that speaks to the inadequacy of the offer that we’ve been given at the table,” said Local 832 President Jeff Traeger.
Talks broke down over wage increases, vacation time, and health and welfare benefits, the union said in a news release.
A spokesperson for Diageo released an email statement to CTV:
"We are disappointed with the result of the vote and the decision by the union to proceed with a strike as we believe that the offer made by Diageo was a fair one."
The spokesperson said the company offered the union a wage increase of 4.5 per cent over the course of three years, along with pension, benefit and vacation improvements.
Those offers didn’t come close to meeting the union’s expectations, said Traeger. “I know they’ve put out their wage offer in the media, but it’s way below the cost of living, and it doesn’t have any of the normal improvements that we would normally see.”
“A lot of the folks working at Diageo are maintenance people, engineers, etc. and the settlements we’re seeing in other industries that have those same type of workers are much higher than what we got offered on Thursday night,” said Traeger.
Last November, a British-based expert selected Crown Royal's Northern Harvest Rye as the World Whisky of the Year for 2016. Since then, demand for the whisky has shot up.
“So, the company’s making huge profits right now,” said Traeger.
The company has "robust business continuity plans in place" to ensure the work stoppage doesn't affect delivery of Crown Royal Canadian whisky to the market, said the spokesperson.
The union has applied for a provincial conciliation officer to help bring the parties back to the table. If that doesn’t work after 60 days, either party can apply to the Manitoba Labour Board to impose a working contract.
Traeger hopes it doesn’t come to that, “but based on what we think is a reasonable settlement, and the offer that we got from the employer, I think there is a chance that it could go the distance.”