With closure of the apple packing line at Kelowna, the new B.C. Tree Fruits Co-operative agreement with members of local 247 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was opened a year early to negotiate language to deal with the changed workplace.
Bob Fisher-Fleming, human relations manager for the co-op, said the permanent layoffs affected some 60 people and were based strictly on seniority, which included other co-lop- lists and plants in the valley.
The newly-updated Winfield plant took 27 of the Kelowna workers while the rest went south in the valley.
Although there was no wage increase in the seven-year contract, there are four signing bonuses over that period of time in the new contract, he said.
“It’s all about competition. We’re in a very competitive position. People working in the U.S. or elsewhere in the valley are getting half the wage that our employees are,” he explained.
“We have to be leaner,” he added.
“It was a tough negotiation. We went in with one issue. We wanted a 10-hour day and a four-day week so there are fewer employees working more hours. That will save us some money and the employees will get more work,” he said.
He admitted it’s an experiment since no one is sure how 10-hour days will work, but it gives employees three-day weekends, which people like.
Productivity gains because there are fewer start-ups, but still everyone only works a 40-hour week. There’ll be a four-day and a three-day shift, but he felt confident many of those on the three-day shift will get more time with holidays and sick-time counted in.
The longer shifts will begin Dec. 1.
No one at the union’s Kelowna office would comment or be interviewed on the new contract. The receptionist would only say the union never speaks to the press and she hung up.
Members voted on the new agreement at the end of September and beginning of October, approving it.
It affects more than 400 hourly employees of the co-op in the valley.