NAPE says Country Ribbon CEO bullying workers with threats of downtime

NAPE President Jerry Earle says workers have no plan to call a strike, but is losing faith in Country Ribbon's desire to take part in a proper negotiation process.

Jerry Earle says CEO Ian Blenkham personally approached workers despite ongoing contract talks

NAPE president Jerry Earle says union members who work at Country Ribbon will not accept bullying tactics from the CEO while collective bargaining negotiations are ongoing. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The head of the union representing workers at the province's largest chicken operation says the union has no plan to call a strike, but is losing faith in the employer's desire to take part in a proper negotiation process.

A memo from Country Ribbon CEO Ian Blenkham obtained by CBC News on Tuesday stated that the company had not put new chickens in its barn since Oct. 5, which could mean at least eight weeks of work stoppage at its facilities on East White Hills Road and Cochrane Pond.

The memo went on to say the company is expecting a strike from the workers, after employees rejected the latest contract offer from Country Ribbon and walked out of a meeting on Monday.

These employees, these Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, are not going to be intimidated.- Jerry Earle

Jerry Earle, the head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), questions why Blenkham circulated the memo while negotiations are still taking place between the union and Blenkham's own negotiator.

"The last thing we want, that any union wants, despite what some may think, is to have to invoke job action," Earle said. "They've been working diligently to try and reach an agreement."

Bullying tactics

Earle said that as negotiations continue, Blenkham keeps modifying his conditions when the union agrees to something. He also says the CEO has been circumventing the bargaining process by going into the plant and trying to intimidate workers personally.

Earle says that's unacceptable.

"Those employees were pretty upset, they felt it was an attempt to intimidate them," Earle said.

"Well I have a message for this employer. These employees – these Newfoundlanders and Labradorians – are not going to be intimidated, nor is their union."

The Country Ribbon chicken processing facility is located in Pleasantville, in the east end of St. John's. (CBC)

Some of the issues that are causing problems during the bargaining process are focused around raises and the proposal that workers be required to work on Saturdays under certain conditions.

Earle said Blenham's decision to stop placing chicks in the barn on Oct. 5 in anticipation of a strike doesn't add up, as provincial labour legislation means the earliest that NAPE members could vote on a stike is Oct. 22.

Regardless, he said it's clear Blenkham has no intention to compromise if he's resorting to personal bullying tactics even while the bargaining process is ongoing.

"I'm not sure this owner is even aware that there's conversations taking place by a negotiator that he has hired on his behalf. We are talking on both sides but it appears the owner is not even letting his own negotiating team do the work here," he said.

"He may be able to run the business but it appears he's certainly not experienced with collective bargaining."

With files from St. John's Morning Show