All 400 employees at a Manitoba hog processor are being threatened with the sack if the unionised members amongst their number go on strike over a wage dispute.

Springhill Farms sent a letter out to all of its workers yesterday [Thursday] stating that its Neepawa plant will close permanently on 26 September if there is a work stoppage, rendering everyone out of a job.

The company and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 832, are currently between US$3 and US$4 apart on a wage deal. Negotiators were given a 96% strike mandate on 9 May by union members, but no strike date has actually been set.

Union representatives said that the letter’s threats were “premature” given that a deal could still be reached on 31 May, when the firm is due to table a revised offer. Spokesman Don Keith said that the threat was “simply a pressure tactic”.

Bill Teichroew, general manager at the company and the author of the letter, was insistent however that costs have to be lowered, because the firm operates in low-margin, competitive market.

“We don’t want a strike. We don’t want to shut down,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press, but legislation that allows binding arbitration after a strike, or a 60 day lockout, could force the company to bring people back to work, even if as a result of the work stoppage there is no work left. As a result, he said, he had to give the workers their 18-week notice of termination sooner rather than later.