B.C. migrant farm workers go union with UFCW Canada

The B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) last week certified a bargaining unit of more than 70 migrant farm workers after a majority voted to join UFCW Canada Local 1518. The workers come to Canada each year under the federal government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and are employed by Sidhu & Sons Nursery Ltd. Sidhu, with a central office in Mission, B.C., operates a half-dozen nursery locations in the Lower Mainland specializing in shrubbery, trees, and other landscaping plants.

The SAWP workers at Sidhu are now the second certified bargaining unit of migrant farm workers represented by Local 1518. The local union also represents seasonal workers at Floralia Growers near Abbotsford, where a first collective agreement was ratified last September. The SAWP workers at Sidhu had actually cast their ballots over a year ago, but the ballot box had been sealed pending challenges by the employer.

“We welcome the newest members at Sidhu,” says UFCW Canada Local 1518 President Ivan Limpright. “This has been a long struggle, with many challenges by the employer. But at the end of the day, these workers stood by their right to have a union and we’re there for them.”

Sidhu had argued to the LRB that, because it also employs domestic workers, a stand-alone unit of SAWP workers was not appropriate. But on Feb. 9, after the union challenged the LRB Vice-Chair’s original decision, the reconsideration panel referred the award back to the Vice-Chair. Then, after many days of hearings, he overturned his original decision in favour of the union. The Vice-Chair upheld the right of the SAWP workers to form their own bargaining unit if a majority of them voted to.

“It proves these workers want representation, and they want it from UFCW Canada,” says UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley. “This is a victory for the SAWP workers at Sidhu, and for all agriculture workers in Canada who want to exercise their constitutional right to unionize and bargain a collective agreement.”

Vol. X No. 9, March 8, 2010