Canada’s first-ever union for seasonal agricultural workers has disbanded only two years after it was formed.
The Manitoba Labour Board has approved an application by Mexican field labourers at Mayfair Farm in Portage la Prairie to have their union decertified.
In a July 9 ruling, the board revoked Local 832 of the United Food and Commercial Workers as the certified bargaining agent for the workers.
The move followed a unanimous June 25 vote by the 26 employees to decertify.
“They seem to be pretty happy about it,” said Todd Giffin, co-owner of Mayfair Farm, a family-owned small fruit and vegetable operation.
The union at Mayfair Farm, certified by the labour board in June 2007, was the first one for seasonal agricultural workers in Canada at the time. Migrant workers have since been certified at three farms in Quebec.
The Mayfair Farm union episode was clouded in controversy from the beginning.
The Mexican workers originally signed union cards after asking UFCW to help them when some colleagues were involved in an altercation and ended up in jail.
Soon after, a number signed a declaration recanting their support. But the labour board rejected it because it was not submitted on a proper form.
The labour board conducted a hearing in January 2007 and released its decision to certify in June.
UFCW subsequently negotiated a three-year collective agreement with Mayfair Farm on behalf of the Mexicans.
Some in the industry claim the employees felt they had been misrepresented and never really wanted to unionize.
But Darlene Dziewit, Manitoba Federation of Labour president, suggested the employees may have felt under pressure to decertify because they are guest workers in Canada.
An estimated 1,000 migrants work in Manitoba under a joint CanadianMexican government program.
A spokesperson for the Mexican workers could not be reached for comment.
A UFCW Local 832 spokesperson expressed disappointment but said efforts to unionize agricultural workers in Canada will continue.
“It’s just another hurdle,” said communications director Blake Crothers. “The national office is determined and focused on making sure these workers have the right (to unionize).”
But Giffin said he did not foresee a renewed attempt to organize employees on his farm. “From the feeling I get from the workers, I don’t think it would ever come up at our farm again.” [email protected]