Lethbridge meat plant workers to vote on $3 raise

These workers have been without a new contract for over a year and a half.

Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers recently published an update on their website regarding ongoing contract negotiations for workers in Lethbridge.

The 460 or so workers are employed at the Maple Leaf pork plant in Lethbridge, and their most recent contract expired in March 2022, over a year and a half ago.

The workers and the employers have been unable to reach an agreement, so bargaining went to mediation this past spring.

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Last week, the mediator, Rick Wilson of the Calgary-based FindYes Dispute Resolution Services, released his recommendations to the two parties.

If the two parties ratify the recommendations, the new contract would last for 6 years, from April 2022 until March 2028. During that time, production workers will see a $3 an hour increase in wages. Here’s how that increase breaks down by year.

1 April 2022$0.60
1 April 2023$0.40
1 April 2024$0.50
1 April 2025$0.50
1 April 2026$0.50
1 April 2027$0.50

And here’s a breakdown for the increase in trade worker wages.

Old rateNew rateChange
4th class$30.65$30.65$0.00
3rd class$36.06$39.22$3.16

Keep in mind that 4th class trades workers would receive a lump sum payment of $1,000 upon ratification.

Related to this, a new formula will be used for determining wage increases for trades workers at the plant. Every year, Maple Leaf will conduct an annual survey of at least 5 relevant industrial labour market competitors to see what they’re paying their trade workers. If the average pay of those workers is more than 5% above what Maple Leaf trades workers are receiving, then Maple Leaf trades workers will have their pay bumped up to the average.

According to Local 401, Maple Leaf had originally proposed taking away workers’ 6th week of vacation.They also, apparently, wanted to get rid of the 37-hour guarantee for all new employees and increase the number of weeks they could reduce the hours for all current employees.

However, the mediator recommended keeping those two items as is for the proposed contract.

Another proposed change in the the mediated agreement is a new pension plan. Starting in 2015, Maple Leaf began contributing 96¢ into a pension for every qualifying hour an employee workers to a maximum of 2,000 hours per calendar year.

The tentative agreement recommends moving instead to a defined contribution pension plan, where the workers would contribute 1% of their regular earning, as well as an additional but optional 1%. In either case, Maple Leaf would match worker contributions.

Under the previous contract, only hourly workers in the plant were covered by Local 401. The new contract, if ratified, will represent all plant workers, except for anyone with a rank of production supervisor or above, lead hands, workers Employees represented by any certified bargaining agent, and chief boiler engineer, the latter being a new addition.

The night shift premium will increase from 55¢ an hour to 65¢ an hour for any hours worked between 16:00 and 07:00 the following day, as long as their shift starts before 06:00 or after 09:00.

There will also be a slight change to funeral leave, which has been renamed bereavement leave, where if bereavement leaves occurs while a worker is on vacation, they can reschedule that portion of their vacation leave for another time.

Under the previous contract, workers would follow a complicated grid for a weekly indemnity benefit, which would cover them if they found themselves unable to work for a period (such as a result of injury). It ranged from $300 week for workers making $10.50 an hour or less to $463 a week for those making $18.44 an hour or more. The new contract will replace this grid with a straight 55% of earnings.

Maple Leaf, under the previous contract, would reimburse up to $150 for safety boots. That amount will increase to $170 as of the ratification date, then to $190 be the end of the contract.

The new contract proposes establishing a new health and safety committee that will meet monthly to inspect the plant site and review health and safety issues in the workplace. It’ll have representation from Maple Leaf management, and 7 workers: 1 each from maintenance, rendering, shipping, sanitation, boiler room, and kill floor; and 2 from the cut floor. The committee will be co-chaired by a worker rep and a management rep.

There will also be a dignity and respect committee, which will meet quarterly to discuss respect and dignity issues within the plant. It will have a maximum of 3 members.

Orthodontic coverage will increase from $500 to $600, and vision care will increase from $250 to $275, as well as a $10 increase for eye exams ($110). Physiotherapy will also now be covered, up to $250 per year.

The new contract will create a new education training fund for workers. Maple Leaf will contribute 1¢ for evey hour worked as of 1 April 2025 for each worker, plus an additional 1¢ per hour after 1 April 2026, and yet another 1¢ as of 1 April 2027.

In-person ratification voting will occur on 21 November, and online voting will take place the following day. Check out Local 401’s website for information on locations and times.

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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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