Calgary egg plant workers begin negotiations

Once a new collective agreement is negotiated and ratified, it’ll apply to about 50 workers.

Last month, Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers published a bargaining update regarding the start of negotiations with Burnbrae Farms.

Burnbrae Farms is an egg-grading station that has been operating in Calgary since 2001. Workers there collect and grade the eggs supplied by local farms, which then are distributed throughout Canada. The facility is a crossover between production and warehousing.

These negotiations are on behalf of about 50 workers employed at the company’s processing plant in the Foothills Industrial Park of Southeast Calgary. Their previous contract expired in June 2020, over 3 years ago.

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The workers’ bargaining team met with the employer 6–8 September 2023 to discuss negotiations and to exchange their initial proposals. As is custom, because the negotiating process is just starting, the proposals as just non-monetary items.

Monetary proposals, such as wage increases, will come up later in the process as the non-monetary proposals are resolved and accepted.

A lot of the proposals are minor language edits (such as language regarding job postings, union representation, leaves of absence, and other housekeeping matters), but there are a few proposals from the workers’ negotiating team that I thought were worth highlighting.

New workers, under the existing contract, had up to 30 days to become union members. Now, the union wants to reduce it to just 5 days.

One section in the old contract said that Burnbrae had until the 15th working day of each accounting period to submit to the union a list of all workers who paid union deductions and how much they paid. Now, the workers would like the report to include hours worked, and they want the amount paid by each worker to be itemized by dues, fees, and other assessments.

In the new contract, the workers want to add a new section that’ll require Burnbrae to supply a monthly report to the union for every employee, including name, employment status, date of hire, seniority date, vacation date, termination date, current rate of pay, and other information (such as contact info).

The union wants to change the phrase “basic work week”—which was 40 hours, split into 5 8-hour days—to “guaranteed work week”.

Under the most recent contract, Burnbrae had to give 24 hours of notice of a change in shift. The workers want to triple this to 72 hours.

The union plans to propose increases to shift premiums, meal allowances, and vacation entitlement, but the exact amounts won’t be specified until the two parties begin monetary negotiations.

The most recent contract specifies that promotions to positions covered by UFCW will be based on fitness, merit, and ability; however, if two candidates are equally qualified in those areas, then the most senior workers would get priority. The union wants to change it so that only seniority is the determining factor in promotions.

The workers want to add National Truth and Reconciliation Day to the list of paid holidays observed by the employer, as well as the worker’s birthday, if it falls on a regular work day, or the following Friday or Monday. They also want the ability for workers to transfer general Christian Holidays (such as Good Friday of Christmas) to days that are observed as holy days in their own faith traditions.

Under the previous contract, union reps were allowed to talk to Burnbrae workers, but it had to be for no more than 5 minutes: anthig over 5 minutes was considered “not on employer time”. The union wants to eliminate the 5-minute limit.

Workers were limited in the union-related time off they were entitled to under the most recent contract. Only 1 worker qualified and it maxed out at 2 weeks. The union has proposed getting rid of these two limits. They also suggested that the company can invoice the union for the cost of time off with pay.

In the existing contract, workers are eligible for parental leave if they’ve worked at the company for 52 weeks straight. The union wants to shorten that to just 90 days. They also want the leave to be able to start a week earlier (13 weeks prior to the due date, instead of 12 weeks), for maternity leave to increase from 15 weeks to 16 weeks, and for parental leave to increase from 37 weeks to 62 weeks. Currently, parental leave must be completed within 52 weeks of the baby being born or the adopted child being placed with the parents; the union wants to increase this to 78 weeks.

The union proposes workers being able to take up to a week of paid bereavement leave in the event of the death of an immediate family member. Currently, this is available for just death of a spouse, parent, or child; otherwise, the length of leave is at the discretion of the employer.

In the new contract, the union wants workers to be able to take up to 5 days of paid personal and family responsibility leave within each calendar year. They also want each worker to be entitled to 10 paid days per year for domestic violence leave.

Full-time workers have access to 40 hours of leave each year to cover incidental illnesses, and they are then paid out any hours that are unused at the end of the year. The union wants to double this to 80 hours. They are also allowed to apply once a year to have 1 day absence to del with urgent personal or family health related matters, which doesn’t affect the 40 hours. The union wants to increase this to 5 days.

The next bargaining session will begin on 30 October, and there’s a third bargaining session scheduled for next month.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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