UFCW Canada Local 832 has been working hard for migrant workers ever since many Manitoba employers started recruiting employees from all over the world through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Companies like Maple Leaf, Springhill Farms, and Granny’s Poultry have brought workers to the province from North, Central and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia and those workers immediately enjoyed the benefit of belonging to UFCW Canada. Local 832 embraced these workers, lobbying and negotiating on their behalf to ensure that they receive the same rights and privileges as any other worker in Manitoba.
The workforce at the Maple Leaf plant in Brandon includes about 1,700 migrant workers. The majority of shop stewards at the plant are from that group. During the last round of negotiations, all of the major migrant worker groups were represented by members on the bargaining committee. Membership meetings were conducted in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Ukrainian – the same languages that the Maple Leaf agreement is now available in.
“We knew to be successful in negotiations and in representing migrant workers we had to prove to our new members that they were included and that their union listened and acted on what they had to say,” says Local 832 President Robert Ziegler.
The result was new contract language protecting the rights of temporary foreign workers (TFW) – a first in Canada.
“That was a defining moment for the local – being able to establish the rights and privileges of these workers in a contract. They represent the largest number of new members at Local 832 by far and we have been able to bring that same protection to other workplaces who recruit through the PNP,” states Local 832 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Traeger, who also serves the union as a member of the UFCW Canada National Council Human Rights, Equity & Diversity Committee.
President Ziegler adds, “We are developing strong union members in Manitoba because of our commitment not only at the bargaining table but in the community. A new office and education centre will open in Western Manitoba this fall and we have become the second largest provider of English as an additional language in the province. It’s a real success story.”
This success has caught the attention of two groups who advocate for the rights of migrant workers, Migrante Manitoba and Damayan Manitoba. Last summer, Jomay Amora-Mercado of Migrante and Diwa Marcelino of Damayan contacted Local 832 about the nearly 1,600 TFWs working in hog barns in southern Manitoba.
“Without the protection of a union contract, the workers only have employment standards to protect them. A lot of them are unaware of their rights,” stated Local 832 organizing director Sonia Taylor, who has been working closely with both groups. “We are here to help them as much as we can and to educate them that joining a union in Canada is a safe – and a smart thing to do.”
The relationship with Migrante and Damayan – as well as with other groups that share the union’s desire to see the rights of all workers protected – will continue to grow in the very diverse province “Our commitment to helping workers regardless of their origin is evident,” states President Ziegler. “We’re working hard at Local 832 to make sure all workers in Manitoba have a voice.”
Vol. XI No. 17 • April 26, 2011