YIP testimonial series
This summer, six UFCW Canada activists set out across Southern Ontario to get a first-hand look at the challenges, hardships and injustice faced by migrant agricultural workers. Here is the first in a series of reports through the eyes of these youth activists.
UFCW Canada activists and community partners participating in this year’s Youth Internship Program. Pictured from left to right are Kevin d'Eca, Local 401; Sarah Kennedy, Local 1118; Ricardo Pena, Local 1118; Zenee Maceda, Migrante Youth; Marco Roacha, Local 1000A; and Joe Irving, Local 401.
By Joe Irving and Kevin d’Eca
Have you ever wondered where your produce comes from or how it got to that wonderfully designed pyramid of fruits and vegetables at the grocery store in your town?
As young UFCW Canada members participating in the national Youth Internship Program, we went out and did some research to find out who planted and picked those fruits and vegetables that end up at the receiving dock at our grocery store.What we learned in this YIP experience opened our eyes to the unjust treatment of migrant workers in our communities.
Migrant workers in Canada experience many hardships when working to plant and harvest the fruits and vegetables North Americans enjoy daily. From substandard living conditions in employer-owned houses to unfair treatment in regard to wages, breaks and health and safety.
As young members investigating the issues we sought out the perspectives of many different actors in the community like the workers themselves, residents of the Simcoe/Leamington community, farm owners, and staff at the Agricultural Workers Alliance (AWA) action centres that help workers with their issues.
One conversation we remember well was with a small business owner named Paul, who operates Exquisite Fashion and Caribbean Groceries, a cozy shop in the heart of Leamington that caters to the migrant community. We asked Paul what his thoughts were on the abuses migrant workers experience from his conversations with workers at his store. Paul admits the problems are widespread but remarked, “The workers are afraid to speak out because they don't want to get sent home,” a horrifying reality that underpins the migrant experience. Demanding your rights could mean a one-way ticket (which you must purchase) back to your country of origin.
Conversations like this allowed us to get many different sides of the story and get a real understanding of the hard work and sacrifices people undertake to make a better life for themselves and their families. In YIP we learned about the devastating impacts globalization can have on local communities in the global south. Seeing the injustices first hand taught us more than any role play or text book ever could. Young members need to realize as workers we are all the same and an end to migrant exploitation is a start in building a society that practices justice and respect for all.
Brothers Joe Irving and Kevin d’Eca are UFCW Canada Local 401 youth activists who work at Real Canadian Superstore in Calgary where they advocate for their fellow members and coworkers as union stewards.