WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Grain workers at Viterra Inc’s rural elevators in the province of Saskatchewan are ready to set up picket lines next week at some facilities owned by Canada’s largest grain handler unless contract talks resume, a union spokesman said on Friday.
More than 600 elevator workers belonging to the Grain Services Union have been working to rule for the past two months as about 200 striking members of the same union picketed Viterra’s head office in Regina, Saskatchewan.
The company and union have not met since mid-July.
Elevator representatives met on Thursday and decided to “escalate” their job action unless talks resume, said Hugh Wagner, the union’s general secretary.
“What it could mean is picket lines at grain handling facilities and other operations,” Wagner told Reuters.
He declined comment on how many elevators could be affected or say when the action would begin.
But he said the action probably would be gradual because union members want to avoid a “wholesale interruption” of grain handling because of concerns about the impact on farmers.
“They’re mindful that this is harvest time for farmers and they feel that Viterra has put them in an awkward situation by threatening to lock them out,” Wagner said.
Viterra has said it would lock out elevator employees who withdrew services, and would use non-unionized staff to keep elevators running in the event of a strike or lock-out.
“Viterra has made the threat, and I guess we’ll see if they mean what they say,” Wagner said.
A spokesperson for Viterra was not immediately available for comment.
Wagner said his union represents workers at most of the company’s facilities in Saskatchewan, Canada’s largest grain-producing province, where harvest is just underway.
Viterra shares were down 13 Canadian cents at C$11.96 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton