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   Vol. 67/No. 45           December 22, 2003  
Poultry workers in Ontario
walk out for better wages
TORONTO—More than 1,000 members of UFCW Local 175 approved a new contract after a two-week strike at the Maple Lodge Farms chicken processing plant in Brampton, Ontario. The strike began on November 10 when workers rejected a company offer of a 30-cent per hour wage increase in each year of a three-year contract.

On the picket line, workers—who say they normally process 300,000 chickens a day—described the brutal pace of the production line and conditions they are subjected to on the job. In an interview in the local Brampton newspaper, one of the strikers, Patricio, said that as a chicken picker at the beginning of the line he has to lift 16 chickens a minute onto shackles. Pickets point out that many workers have developed repetitive motion injuries.

During the first week of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) strike, pickets stopped trucks and bosses from crossing the picket lines, but the company soon obtained a court injunction barring strikers from blocking or obstructing any person or vehicle from entering the plant.

The police ordered strikers’ cars to be removed from the rural road alongside the plant, forcing the unionists to walk 30 minutes to get to the picket line. In response, the union rented a large van to shuttle strikers from their cars to the picket line.

A picket captain, Benita, said that a week into the walkout the strikers again rejected the company’s “final offer,” by a vote of 585 to 451. “I wasn’t surprised by the vote results but management was,” she said. “The vote shows the union is serious.” Joa Vale, a chicken cutter at the plant, supported the vote because “it will force the company to come back to the bargaining table.”

Teresa Basheco, who fills orders in the shipping department, said the company pressured workers to cross the picket line and return to work. She estimated that about 60 union members crossed the lines and worked on production lines alongside supervisors and administrative staff.

Strikers organized delegations to go to Swiss Chalet and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants to ask customers not to eat Maple Lodge chickens during the strike. Union officials called on other UFCW locals to enforce the “hot cargo” clause in their contracts, which prohibits employers from using products coming from a struck plant.

Basheco reported that workers approved the new contract November 25 by a 2 to 1 margin. It includes a raise of 35 cents per hour the first two years of the pact, a 45-cent raise the third year, and medical benefits improvements. Picketing buses carrying scabs at a local flea market was a turning point, she said, “because the company realized that the strikers would continue to try and stop scabs from getting into the plant.”

Rosemary Ray is a member of UFCW Local 175 at Maple Leaf Pork in Burlington,Ontario.  
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