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.

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 journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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