Opinion: Why is Westboro losing jobs?

Submitted by heather lynn song – 

I live in what we like to call “Westboro south” and I was at my local diner recently (Al’s pizza) and heard that the Saputo dairy plant right across the street on Clyde was closing in a year. I couldn’t believe my ears! How could this established institution in the neighbourhood that employed so many people in good family-providing jobs just close up?

Saputo dairy is a stone’s throw from Westboro,

Pink slips were given to more than 100 workers. The extra “icing” on the cake – or “cream” on the cheese you could say – is that these jobs could also be called “green”– in a time when creating good “green” jobs is of paramount importance to our city and planet.

I decided to call a local community group called ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to find out what they thought: “We really need more good full-time employment in our neighbourhood. We don’t need jobs leaving,” says Kat Fortin, Chair of the ACORN chapter in Ottawa West. ACORN lobbies for issues that affect low-income people.

I also found out that the workers were represented by a union called the Teamsters Local 647. The jobs at the dairy are “good” because they provide a living wage for the workers there. Most people make between $17.93/hour to $24/hour according to their union contract or collective agreement.

I called the Teamsters up. Martin Cerqua, staff for the union Teamsters 647 explained it like this: Saputo said they were closing to save money. But what about the workers? Some workers are left without a job at age 55. They have worked for the dairy for most of their working lives. Some don’t have much formal education since their skills come from learning on-the-job and in-house training. They still need to work since they do not have enough money to retire. Where will they go? Will they now work for minimum wage? Will they start to use food banks to make ends meet? How does this help Ottawa or the people who worked at Saputo?

I also thought about the environmental implications. Having a dairy based in Ottawa also makes “green” sense. Having to truck dairy products from Montreal, or outside of Ottawa, means extra transit costs and more of a negative environmental impact. Dairy jobs are also “green” jobs. For instance, a factory making dairy products is different from a factory making oil-related products.

The Trudeau liberals ran on a “green” jobs platform with good wages. Ontario Liberals ran on a promise of creating more good jobs. Both MP Catherine McKenna and MPP Yasir Naqvi were not available for comment about the closure and I wonder why?

I decided to contact Jeff Leiper, City Councillor for the riding. He responded to me by saying that he doesn’t like the idea of the dairy closing, but doesn’t see how municipal counsellors can help: ”I hate to see the loss of jobs in Kitchissippi, but ultimately we don’t have the tools to address an issue like this. The provincial and federal levels have this mandate and the tools and expertise to address it more immediately.”

I went back to Martin. The Teamsters representative wondered if the closure had anything to do with new and old “trade” deals Canada had signed or is in the process of signing. The TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership may impact the dairy and cheese industry in Canada and Saputo may want to get ahead of this negative impact, Martin suggested.

What I found on the web is this: Saputo is a Montreal-based dairy processor and cheese maker. Saputo owns various dairy brands including Neilson, Dairyland and Vachon. It also owns the Canadian rights to Hostess products (and people eat chips so there’s a lot of cash right there!). Saputo expects to save $9 million annually by fiscal 2019 from the three closures and 230 pink slips. Saputo is one of the top ten dairy processors in the world and is the largest cheese manufacturer in Canada. The Saputo plant in Ottawa is scheduled to close in December 2017. Saputo announced in March 2016 that it would close three factories in Ottawa; Sydney, Nova Scotia; and Princeville, Quebec. Shame!

heather lynn song is an Ottawa-based singer-songwriter and writer working on social justice and environmental issues. You can follow her at facebook.com/heatherlynn.song

2 thoughts

  1. Thanks, Heather, for the fact finding and insight.

    For Myriam — So, “this is business, people” means we should not care about this job loss among our hard-working neighbours?

    This seems pretty heartless, when Saputo – like many other businesses who restructure like this – is so profitable. This is not a case of a company engaging in mass layoffs because they are losing money. They are laying off workers because they can – and they would like to make even greater profits.

    Workers who spend their lives helping business owners make their fortunes should not just be dumped like this, and it is telling that it is done so easily, with so little organized resistance, and with some people cheering them on. I suppose at one level, you are quite right: “this is business…”

  2. This is very irritating to me: ”some workers are left without a job at 55”. Who’s fault is that? Certainly not the company who has been employing them and supporting them their entire life. What about union support? DO you have fact about their pension plan? Their severance package? Shame on the public to jump to conclusions so quickly. Have you reached out to the company? Looks like everyone else was consulted, even individuals who have (1) no involvement in the matter and (2) cannot do anything about it. This is business people, ESPECIALLY in the manufacturing industry.

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