Unusual and expensive labour dispute at Buhler Industries

Payments total $16 million

The resolution of a bitter labour dispute has proven to be as unusual – and as expensive – as the various steps along its way:

•In August 2000, Buhler Industries purchased the Versatile farm machinery manufacturing plant from New Holland NV for $15 million. It also assumed a $32 million Canadian government loan.

•235 unionized workers walked off the job in November when contract negotiations failed. Buhler kept the plant operating by using replacement workers.

•The workers voted to abandon the strike and return to work in March, but Buhler locked them out.

•As the dispute continued, Buhler cut its contract offer and threatened to close the plant.

•In June, the Manitoba Labour Board determined that Buhler was guilty of bad-faith bargaining and, a month later, ordered it to pay $6 million as compensation to the workers. That amount was the largest award made to date by the Board.

The Board also ordered the parties to return to the bargaining table to work out a contract. However, they could not resolve their differences and Buhler suggested an alternative. It offered to pay $17 million to get rid of the workers. The workers voted in favour of accepting the offer in return for giving up their right to return to work.

The workers will each receive about $33,000 in back pay to cover the strike and lock-out. They will also get between $5,000 and $20,000 in severance pay, depending on how long they have worked at the plant.

Those payments will cost Buhler about $16 million. It will pay another $1 million to wind-up the plant’s pension plan.

Buhler representatives were unable to say whether operations at the plant would continue. At the moment, it is not fully staffed with replacement workers and is operating below production capacity.

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