by James Wilt
Over 200 workers at the Aryzta factory in North Winnipeg are entering their second week of striking for increased wages and a return to eight-hour shifts.
The strike began at 8 am on April 30. Since then, the UFCW Local 832 members have ensured 24-hour coverage at the twin picket lines — one at the front entrance and another at the delivery gates — reflecting the employer’s recent decision to move to round-the-clock production and require 12-hour shifts without any increase in pay. Striking workers have been rotating in six-hour shifts.
The factory produces a range of pastries such as brownies and muffins for clients including Starbucks, Walmart and Tim Hortons.
“All the stuff that are really tasty but not so good for our waistlines,” quipped chief negotiator Martin Trudel in an interview with RankandFile.ca.
Starting wages at the factory are only $13/hour. Workers at the picket line said that the company hasn’t granted raises in years, and that the switch to 12-hour shifts means long and exhausting days without additional remuneration: especially straining for workers with families.
The factory is producing an estimated 10,000 containers of brownies for Starbucks every week, which workers say has required an accelerated pace of work.
“Production is increasing, which is good: the more production, the more hours for our members,” Trudel said. “But not adjusting the schedule is what what we’ve been going back and forth on.”
The factory was previously owned by Gourmet Baker, itself owned by Pineridge Bakery. In 2014, Aryzta paid $340 million to buy Pineridge from Swander Pace Capital. The Swiss-Irish food giant reported over $6.6 billion in earnings in 2017.
Workers at the factory haven’t gone on strike in over a decade.
Bargaining started in February 2017, continuing in September with a government-appointed conciliation officer. Meetings in early March saw members granting a 96 per cent strike mandate if the employer failed to concede key demands. On April 29, 60 per cent of members voted to reject the final offer and go on strike.
The two sides can apply for alternative dispute resolution after 60 days and go in front of an arbitrator. Workers appear hopeful that the strike can conclude within the next week or so.
“We can do it after 60 days but obviously the goal is to get back to the table as soon as possible, resolve the issues, let people vote on it and hopefully everybody goes back to work and get the contract,” Trudel said.