Sofina Foods workers reignite union efforts at Edmonton plant

“In Alberta, the system is stacked against workers, with a labour board that actively takes sides”

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Edmonton Sofina Foods workers have restarted unionization efforts following a failed vote six months ago.

Employees from the plant at 9620 56 Ave. reignited attempts to form a union on June 3.

Teamsters Local Union 362 worked with employees on the previous effort and said they thought the last attempt was hampered by delays due to an issue with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB).

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With other Sofina Foods locations across Canada already unionized, employees wanted a piece of the benefits that come with it.

“They had safety concerns, working conditions, and about being treated fairly in the facility,” said Gord McCabe, Teamsters Local Union 362 lead organizer for Sofina Foods employees. “And it stemmed off from another organizing drive we were doing at the time.”

At the campaign started, Samir Subedi, a worker, died at the plant. The union referenced the incident in a recently released open letter.

“A well-liked colleague is trapped inside an industrial meat smoker,” said Bernie Haggarty, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local Union 362. “Someone turns the machine on by accident and a human being — your colleague — is cooked to death.”

Operational Health and Safety is still investigating Subedi’s death and couldn’t provide more information.

According to the union’s open letter, the fatality kicked the workers’ unionization efforts into “overdrive.”

McCabe reported seeing some managers on the roof watching workers strike but otherwise there was no pushback.

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To spark a union vote, at least 40 per cent of employees must sign a petition card, and Sofina employees were nearing the threshold. That was when problems began with the ALRB, McCabe said.

The board officer reviewing the Teamsters’ application suggested electronic cards should be excluded, which would have dropped them below the threshold, but McCabe said the union used them before without issue. Teamsters challenged the officer’s decision and the matter went to a hearing.

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“The board officer’s rationale for dismissal was that the individual electronic petition evidence provided by the Teamsters in support of its application did not include a witness name or witness signature for each petitioner,” states the ALRB decision report on the hearing.

The board decided the e-signatures stood but needed further verification, which was done by random verification by a board officer. McCabe said the employees received phone calls from an unidentified number to confirm they signed the petition card, which many ignored and dismissed as scam calls.

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The process took months, stymying the momentum to unionize, during which time workers left the plant.

The vote failed by roughly a dozen votes, forcing employees to wait the obligatory six months before trying again.

Sofina Foods spokeswoman Shannon Denny said via email the company “treat(s) all our employees with respect and take(s) care of them, regardless of whether they are unionized or not.”

Sofina said it was proud to work directly with its non-union employees on wage increases, benefits and other improvements. It also reaffirmed its commitment to a safe work environment for workers through dedicated resources and ongoing investment.

Now, the petitions are making the rounds once more. McCabe is confident the vote would pass this time, saying even if it didn’t, they would continue to work with employees still seeking a union.

“We don’t give up. If the employees want us to come back, well, we keep fighting and we represent employees,” he said.

The Teamsters’ open letter calls for more action as union organizing efforts continue.

“In Alberta, the system is stacked against workers, with a labour board that actively takes sides,” it read.

“It’s time for Alberta to re-examine its labour laws and make them easier — not harder — for workers to join a union.”

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