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B.C. hothouse staff gone, union vote goes on

A union certification vote for an Abbotsford, B.C. greenhouse operation is expected to continue Monday, even though the union in question says half the workers in the proposed bargaining unit have been shipped back to Mexico.

The B.C. Labour Relations Board is to hold the certification vote for Floralia Plant Growers Ltd., which, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518, sacked half its workers Sept. 5 and “rushed” them to Vancouver the next morning and onto a plane back to Mexico.

UFCW says what it called a “mass termination and repatriation” directly follow an application for union certification that it filed on Sept. 4, to represent 29 employees at Floralia.

“It’s time for us, as Canadians, to stop employers from ‘returning’ or ‘exchanging’ agriculture workers like some sort of commodity,” said UFCW Canada national president Wayne Hanley in a release Monday. “The people who harvest our food deserve the same rights and protections as workers in every other major Canadian industry.”

UFCW said the incident in Abbotsford follows another in Portage la Prairie, Man., last month in which six migrant workers were removed from their workplace before an application for union certification could be filed with the Manitoba Labour Board.

UFCW said in its release that Local 1518 has lodged a formal complaint with the B.C. labour board, alleging Floralia has breached the province’s labour relations code. It will ask the board to impose “remedial certification,” Local 1518 president Ivan Limpright said.

“We also expect the board to award the repatriated men their lost wages and to issue an order that compels the employer to provide the workers with passage to Canada and to immediately reinstate them to their former positions,” said Limpright.

The first day of board hearings was last Friday and more dates have been scheduled for this week, beginning tomorrow (Sept. 16), UFCW said. The board has issued “numerous” summonses for the Floralia workers to appear before it, and has taken “special steps to help the workers understand their rights and alleviate their fears,” the union said.

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