Lethbridge meat plant wants to hire 20 TFWs

The company claims they need the temporary foreign workers because of a national labour shortage, but the union representing workers say the shortage is self-inflicted because of low wages.

This past October, representatives from Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union informed some of its Lethbridge members that their employer has plans to hire 20 temporary foreign workers.

The bargaining team with UFCW 401 had just restarted negotiations with Maple Leaf Pork on 13–14 October 2022 after a 5-month break due to staffing changes to both bargaining teams.

The most recent contract the Lethbridge workers had with Maple Leaf Pork expired last March.

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Maple Leaf Pork claims that they need the 20 temporary foreign workers, according to UFCW 401, because of “low staffing levels and the inability to hire locally”, which are “mainly due to a national labour shortage”.

UFCW 401 disagrees with this assessment, asserting that the difficulty in finding more workers is “because there is a lack of workers in Lethbridge willing to work for what Maple Leaf is currently paying.”

The union goes on to claim that “Maple Leaf has one of the lowest starting rates of the major food processors in the province” and tthat it makes sense that some workers “would choose to work somewhere else that is potentially cleaner and pays more money”.

Maple Leaf Pork has been using the temporary foreign worker programme for years as a way to staff its production line.

Seven years ago, in January 2016, the company was complaining about a “chronic” worker shortage, which apparently was “exacerbated” by restrictions the newly-elected Liberal government placed on the programme.

As a result, they had plans at the time to hire up to 10 refugees who were seeking asylum from Syria.

During the October negotiations, the company had requested that the UFCW 401 bargaining team approve their request to apply for the 20 temporary foreign workers.

UFCW 401 representatives said, however, that no approvals would be granted “without a new collective agreement that contains substantial wage increases for current employees”.

In its media release, UFCW 401 had indicated that there would be two more bargaining sessions in October, as well as six sessions in November.

No further updates have been published, and no one returned my request for more information.

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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.

One reply on “Lethbridge meat plant wants to hire 20 TFWs”

I am a former employee of Maple Leaf Pork in Lethbridge. I was employed there from November 2000 to February 2014. In my last 8 months of my employment I felt the company was going to take a route where most of the employees would be from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Now I’m not against bringing in workers to deal with staff shortages, but when it becomes an endless cycle… I did have questions, the company was never transparent during the course of my tenure.
I contemplated on returning in January 2014 ( I was off due to a surgery). I felt that it would be a monetary issue going forward. I did find a better job moving forward that helped. I did find out that the base of staring wage was at one point was $15.75/hr. Just barely over the provincial minimum wage. Who would apply for that?! Not to criticize the company, but is it possible that they keep it this low to deter local and capable people from applying? To make their case on using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. If it is the case, that’s a bad look even for a company that is established as Maple Leaf is. Even near the end of my tenure we’d have 40-60 people apply for work in a week. Even saw a HR person with a stack of resumes and applications, and one of my colleagues asked “How many people applied?” She said a number and she pointed out that they will only hire Temporary Foreign Workers. That sunk me, and I even said “I don’t know if I want to continue working here”.
I’m very grateful that the union hasn’t granted any approvals on the workers they wanted to bring in. I always felt that before they would bring in workers during negotiations, and they would eventually lowball us on a contract. It was an endless pattern. I am hopeful workers are paid that they are owed, for far too long it has been lopsided.
Honestly, 20 workers will not change anything. Most of my employment we worked shorthanded and the added workload on a physically demanding job was never worth it. Just long term aches and pains.

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