B.C. farm’s workers vote to unionize

A controversial union certification vote at an Abbotsford, B.C. fruit and vegetable farm has ended with its workers unionized.

Workers at Floralia Plant Growers Ltd., who are in Canada under the federal government’s seasonal agricultural workers program (SAWP), voted Sept. 15 to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada Local 1518, becoming the second such unit at a B.C. farm.

The vote was conducted by the British Columbia Labour Relations Board, which released the results of the Floralia workers’ vote on Friday.

The labour board allowed the vote count to proceed after the UFCW’s call for “remedial certification” and claim of unfair labour practices were both dismissed earlier this week.

The union had earlier alleged that Floralia’s owners had laid off and sent 14 of 29 SAWP workers back home to Mexico in early September in a bid to stymie the union vote.

The labour board ruled instead that Floralia had reasonable cause to lay off the workers, as harsh weather in the summer of 2008 had ruined many of the company’s crops, leaving not enough marketable produce for 29 workers to harvest full-time.

“We welcome our newest members at Floralia and commend them on their courage and determination to make sure their rights were acknowledged by their employer,” Local 1518 president Ivan Limpright said in a UFCW release Friday. “In spite of various challenges, they stood up for their rights to have a union.”

Floralia, operated by the Sandhu family of Abbotsford, grows vegetables and fruit on 433 acres at 10 locations in the area.

SAWP workers at Greenaway Farms at Surrey voted to join the same UFCW local in August. An application for a third B.C. farm unit is also pending before the B.C. labour board, the UFCW said in its release Friday.

In June, the union noted, ag workers represented by UFCW Canada Local 832 also ratified their first contract at a vegetable farm near Portage la Prairie, Man.

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