In this issue:
Despite what the sign by the road says, it doesn’t look like a farm.
The big, square, industrial building on the outskirts of town has all the hallmarks of a factory. Inside, hundreds of workers toil in tight workspaces, wearing bump hats and other protective clothing, using the unique tools of their trade, and each with a specific task in the manufacturing process. But, because what they manufacture actually “grows” in this factory environment, the factory is a “farm” in the eyes of certain governments.
The difference is not simply one of semantics. Even though mushroom factories and other similar agribusiness facilities in Ontario and Alberta resemble mass-production plants more than they do rustic rural homesteads, the governments of those provinces continue to treat the workers employed in them as second-class citizens.
Finally, the Supreme Court of Canada has declared, categorically, that this is wrong. In its decision handed down in late December (Dunmore v. Ontario (Attorney General)), the Court has ruled conclusively that this dignity-robbing treatment of workers is unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
UFCW Canada took this case to Canada’s highest court after about 200 members working at a mushroom factory in Leamington, Ont. were stripped of their bargaining rights – in the midst of negotiations with the employer – by the Ontario Conservative government in 1995. The Harris Tories came to power vowing to protect the “family farm” from the perceived dangers of unions, which had finally won the right to help agricultural workers to organize during the New Democratic government of Bob Rae. It’s noteworthy that the NDP’s Agricultural Labour Relations Act of 1994 did not grant agricultural workers the right to strike, but rather relied on a process of “final-offer selection” to resolve disputes.
What Harris and his government actually did was retroactively deny the right of free association to thousands of agribusiness workers whose workplaces are as close to a “family farm” as an NHL game in Phoenix is to a game of shinny on a frozen prairie pond. Even the Supreme Court recognized this fallacious excuse in its decision: “The reliance on the family farm justification ignores an increasing trend in Canada towards corporate farming and complex agribusiness and does not justify the unqualified and total exclusion of all agricultural workers from Ontario’s labour relations regime.”
The family farm was never in any danger from legislation allowing agricultural sector workers to bargain collectively, and was actually excluded in legislation brought in by Ontario’s former NDP government. In fact, big-business interests have already wiped out most family farms, and those that have managed to survive are not about to see union organizers hanging around the gatepost.
But where workers in industrial complexes that happen to grow food are denied their rights to freedom of association, it is up to major unions like UFCW Canada to step in on their behalf. We willingly took on the task of representing workers at the mushroom factory in Leamington – along with those at similar operations in Kingsville, Beamsville, and anywhere else workers need a union on their side – and we will, thanks to the just ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, press the governments of Ontario and Alberta to make the necessary changes to existing legislation so that we can continue with our job of representing these workers.
As the Supreme Court said, “History has shown and Canada’s legislatures have recognized that a posture of government restraint in the area of labour relations will expose most workers not only to a range of unfair labour practices, but potentially to legal liability under common law inhibitions and restraints of trade. In order to make the freedom to organize meaningful … the Charter may impose a positive obligation on the state to extend protective legislation to unprotected groups.”
Our next job is to ensure our legislators are listening.
UFCW Canada Local 1977 members at Century Printing in Mississauga, Ont. ratified a new agreement on November 26, 2001. The five members won wage increases of $1.10 over the three-year term. Additionally, a new bonus system provides payments of up to $500 per month, and contributions to the dental plan were substantially increased.
More: Rob Armbruster, UFCW Canada Local 1977
A one-year agreement was ratified in November by UFCW Canada Local 832 members at McKenzie Seeds in Brandon, Man. with a 2% bonus payment, improvements to premiums and benefits, and an increase in the permanent workforce (now 35 of 75 total).
Premium rates now range from 60¢ to $1.30, including those for evening and night shifts, grass packaging, and minimum call-in. An overtime premium of $1.05 will be paid over and above time-and-a-half or double-time rates, and overtime availability is now based on plant-wide as opposed to departmental seniority.
Benefit improvements include sick- and family-leave increases, increases to the vision care benefit, and increased employer contributions to dental, pension, and education and training trust funds. Pension improvements will mean an increase for retiring members of about 50%.
The agreement also includes language for final-offer selection at its termination, in anticipation of an ownership change.
Meanwhile, 25 custodians at the Fort La Bosse School Division in southwestern Manitoba also ratified a new agreement in November, with nine full-time head custodians gaining a $2.86, or 26%, increase over three years. Part-time wages increase 3% per year. Vacations and family-leave provisions were also improved.
More: Don Keith, UFCW Canada Local 832, www.ufcw832.com
Mike Doyle worked as a banker for 15 years before joining what is now UFCW Canada as a banking sector organizer. Brother Doyle has been active in administration and financial areas for UFCW Canada, and is currently coordinator of the UFCW Canada National Training Program.
All figures effective January 1, 2002