Agriculture members at Floralia score important victory – UFCW 1518

BCLRB decision - Floralia Plant Growers

Vancouver – January 25, 2017 – The British Columbia Labour Relations Board (BCLRB) has upheld charges that the owners of a B.C. agriculture operation broke the labour laws in attempting to derail the union rights of migrant agriculture workers at Floralia Plant Growers Limited in the Lower Mainland. The workers are members of UFCW Canada Local 1518. On Friday, the BCLRB delivered its decision that Floralia had violated the labour code by creating obstacles for certain migrant workers to return to the farm in 2016 because they were known to be union supporters.

The workers at Floralia, like tens of thousands of migrant workers at other agriculture operations across the country, come to Canada each growing season under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). Typically, employers request that workers under the SAWP return to the farms they worked at the year before. That used to be the case at Floralia but that changed when an application to decertify the union was filed in 2015 and later dismissed by the labour board in 2016.

Floralia was unionized in 2008, after a majority of the workers there voted to join UFCW Canada Local 1518. The union contract requires the employer to recall workers each season based on seniority. But according to evidence upheld by the BCLRB, in 2016 Floralia delayed recalling many of the workers suspected of being union sympathizers. Instead, Floralia used migrant workers from another agriculture operation – S&G Fresh Produce Limited – a non-union operation owned by members of the same family that owns Floralia.

As a result,the union filed charges that Floralia’s move to delay recalling the union supporters was an unfair labour practice, and an attempt to ‘‘decimate’’ the union. It also charged that Floralia and S&G were for all intents and purposes one and the same company, acting to thwart the collective agreement. The board agreed, in a decision written by BCLRB Vice-Chair Jennifer Glougie and handed down on January 20, 2017.  ‘‘I find Floralia’s actions amount to an unfair labour practice in this regard... I find Floralia committed an unfair labour practice by manipulating the recall process under the SAWP program in order to avoid recalling Union supporters.’’

In the wake of its findings, the BCLRB handed down a number of directives to deter Floralia from breaking the Labour Code again. It also ruled that Floralia and S&G are a common employer and would now be covered by the same union contract.

‘‘This decision is an important victory for UFCW members at Floralia, our new members at S&G, and all agriculture workers, especially migrant workers, who come here every year as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program,’’ says Ivan Limpright, president of UFCW Canada Local 1518.

‘‘The labour board ruled in a decisive way and granted all remedies presented by UFCW, and the decision sends a strong message to any employers who attempt to undermine the fundamental rights of our members,’’ adds the union’s national president, Paul Meinema. ‘‘Because these workers had the strength and resources of the UFCW, they were able to find some justice, but for many migrant agriculture workers in Canada who are without a union – especially in Ontario, where farm workers are excluded from the Labour Relations Act – basic labour rights are just an illusion. Hopefully this recent decision by the B.C. Labour Board will be followed by other decisions, provincially and federally, that will, once and for all, ensure basic labour rights for every worker in our country.’’