September 11, 2008 / 6:12 PM / 9 years ago

Viterra, union to talk as strike action spreads

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Viterra Inc said it would resume contract talks with the Grain Services Union and a federal mediator on Thursday as picket lines sprung up at more of its Saskatchewan grain elevators amid the busy harvest season.

Unionized workers at the company’s head office in Regina, Saskatchewan, have been on strike over wages and benefits since early July.

Grain handlers began last week to escalate action, and now have picket lines at seven rural locations, union and company spokespersons confirmed.

“We will take a pause (in escalating action) for the rest of today and perhaps tomorrow ... out of respect for the mediation process, but it does not mean an end to the escalation,” said Hugh Wagner, the union’s general secretary.

Viterra was slated to meet with a federal mediator and the bargaining committee for operations and maintenance workers on Thursday, with talks expanding on Friday to include representatives of the office workers, Wagner said.

The affected sites include Balgonie, Swift Current, Gull Lake, Kindersley, Rosetown, the Moose Jaw seed plant and Shaunavon, all in the province of Saskatchewan.

A company spokeswoman said a total of 24 unionized staff at the seven locations were involved in the strike on Thursday morning, and said the facilities continued to run with management and other staff who crossed the picket lines.

Viterra, Canada’s largest grain company, has about 100 elevators across Western Canada and about 250 retail outlets where it sells fertilizer and chemicals to farmers.

Viterra has said the strike has had little impact on its operations to date and said it expected to keep elevators running during the harvest.

Viterra shares were down 2 percent to C$10.20 at the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday.

More than 600 of the company’s elevator workers are in a legal strike position along with about 200 office workers. Viterra has a total work force of about 4,000.

($1=$1.08 Canadian)

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Scott Anderson

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