11/24/07

Teamsters strike enters week 4

Some 266 production and maintenance workers at Sun-Rype are entering their fourth week of a strike at the company's Kelowna (British Columbia) processing plant. The workers, represented by Teamsters Local 213, walked off the job Nov. 6 after negotiations failed. The bargaining unit's last contract expired Aug. 31, 2006.

Teamsters business representative Gene Wirch said the union made a counter-proposal to Sun-Rype's last offer, which the company "pretty much outright rejected." Negotiations lasted more than a year, including unsuccessful rounds of mediation. No new talks are scheduled.

Wirch said the company's last offer did not address items that the union insists should be in a new agreement, including revised terms for contracting out work. Wirch said the union has observed some contracting out of the bargaining unit's work and "we saw them escalating [the practice]."

Sun-Rype officials did not grant an interview, but in a written statement, CEO Eric Sorensen said the company "made negotiating a new collective agreement with our unionized employees a top priority." In the statement, Sorensen added that Sun-Rype is committed to its Kelowna operations, having spent more than $13 million over the last two years. "It is very important to us that his issue be resolved as quickly as possible so we can carry on with building the long-term viability of this business and optimizing the investments we have made," Sorensen said.

Wirch said morale is high among striking workers, some of whom have temporary jobs in the region's booming economy.

"We know there are going to be some who are just not going to come back [after the strike]," Wirch said, "and that's going to be unfortunate for both sides."

Sun-Rype's shares closed at $12.53, down four cents, in Friday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

(canada.com)

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