Edmonton food workers file for union certification

Concerned about safety in their workplace, food processing workers reached out to the Teamsters about becoming unionized.

Recently, workers at Sofina Foods in Edmonton reached out to Local 362 of the Teamsters Union about organizing their workplace.

Sofina Foods is an Ontario-based food processing company with locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Québec. The company operates two plants in Edmonton. The one at 7727 127 Avenue is already unionized with the Local 401 of the United Food & Commercial Workers. Local 362 of the Teamsters is trying to unionize the plant at 9620 56th Avenue.

This plant was actually in the news recently, after a superintendent was found dead on site. According to a CBC article from last month, Samir Subedi, a 33-year-old Nepalese immigrant who came to Canada 5 years ago, “was found injured and unconscious” due to “lack of oxygen and carbon monoxide poisoning” and later died in the hospital.

I interviewed Chance Hrycun, vice-president of Local 362 and one of the business agents, for this story, and he told me that workers claimed that Subedi ended up stuck in one of the meat smokers at the plant. Hrycun reported to me that workers had told him the locking mechanism on the door of the smoker was faulty. He also said that workers claim being told by the employer to override safety features on plant machinery to keep up with production.

Workplace safety is one reason workers had reached out to Local 362. Hrycun hopes that if they’re successful in unionizing, workplace safety will be a top priority for the union.

Several times this month, the union and several Sofina workers have organized card signing events in an effort to get the 40% of the workforce onboard needed to file for union certification and hold a vote overseen by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

The card signing process is pretty high tech, compared to past processes. According to Hrycun, Local 362 uses an electronic signing systems. Workers scan a QR code with their phone, which takes them to an online form, where they can fill out their contact information and submit it automatically. Local 362 can then use an app to communicate with these workers.

Hrycun said that after weeks of organizing, Local 362 is confident that they have met the 40% threshold and filed an application for certification last week.

ALRB will review the application, and if they approve it, they will hold a certification vote. Once the ballot is cast, Sofina will have a chance to challenge any issues with the voting process.

For example, in Lethbridge, Starbucks has been challenging the recent unionization drive claiming that certain workers who voted shouldn’t have and that certain workers who should’ve hadn’t.

If there are no objections to the vote or if the objections don’t significantly change the outcome of the vote, and a majority of the workers vote in favour of unionization, then ALRB will likely approve the certification. But that’s just the start. Local 362 would have to start bargaining for a first contract for these workers.

Local 362 hopes to hear from the ALRB next week regarding whether they can hold the vote.

According to this week’s new applications report from the Alberta Labour Relations Board, ff the unionization drive is successful, Local 362 would end up representing somewhere around 220 workers at the Sofina plant. It would include all workers at the plant except all “office, clerical staff, sales personnel, and supervisors”.

Hrycun told The Alberta Worker that he has never lost a ratification vote that he has helped organize. He wants readers of The Alberta Worker to know that it’s possible to unionize workplaces in the private sector, that unions aren’t for just the public sector.

Because ALRB doesn’t archive their new applications reports, I have included a copy of this week’s report below.

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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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