VANCOUVER- March 26, 2012 - The Supreme Court of British Columbia begins deliberations on Wednesday whether to prevent the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) from ruling that Mexico prevented union supporters from returning to Canada under the federal government's Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). At a LRB hearing, which concluded on March 21, three former employees of the Mexico consulate in Vancouver gave testimony that indicated blacklisting and union busting activities by the consulate and Mexico government. Their testimony included that they were instructed to report to senior Mexican officials about Mexican migrant workers in B.C. they suspected of being union sympathizers. The former consular employees also testified they were instructed to tell workers not to contact or visit three Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) support centres in British Columbia operated in association with UFCW Canada (United Food and Commercial Workers union).
On March 28, the court will hear arguments that the labour board's decision to hear the blacklisting evidence earlier this month during thirteen days of hearings contradicted Mexico's claim of sovereign immunity. During those hearings, UFCW Canada Local 1518 argued that Mexico and its consulate in Vancouver colluded with the operators of a B.C. agriculture operation to bust the union at Sidhu & Sons Nursery where a majority of workers voted to unionize, and where a union contract is now in place. Evidence included a leaked document allegedly from the Mexican government which showed that a worker was blocked from the SAWP after the Vancouver consulate placed a call to Mexico advising that the worker was involved in union activity. (Copies of the charges and other evidence are available for download at www.ufcw.ca/stoptheblacklist).
The outcome of the LRB hearing is now on hold, pending the decision of the B.C. Supreme Court. The court’s decision could also impact another case yet to be heard, where UFCW Canada Local 1518 alleges that Mexico and its Vancouver consulate also colluded with another BC agriculture operation — Floralia Growers — to blacklist Mexican migrant workers suspected of being union sympathizers. A union contract is also in place at Floralia, where a majority of the workers voted to unionize in 2008.
UFCW Canada Local 1518 is part of UFCW Canada, the country's largest private-sector union with more than 250,000 members primarily working in the food production and retail sectors. For more than two decades UFCW Canada has been a leading advocate for the labour and workplace rights of both domestic and migrant agriculture workers. In association with Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada operates ten agriculture workers support centres across Canada, including AWA centres in Surrey, Abbotsford and Kelowna, B.C.