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Migrant farm workers at Highline Mushrooms join union


ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia, June 18, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — 150 migrant agricultural workers at the four Highline Mushrooms factory farms in Abbotsford have unionized and joined United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518.

Through a complex corporate structure, Highline Mushrooms is a subsidiary of the Japanese-owned Sumitomo conglomerate, which also owns the agri-food giant Fyffes; they have pledged to defend human and labour rights in its business principles, including core promises about respecting the fundamental labour rights of workers based on freedom of association as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Migrant agricultural workers are some of the most vulnerable workers in Canada, unprotected while working for international agrifood conglomerates who are worth billions.

The mushroom industry is built on the labour of the migrant agricultural workers who staff the farms, working long, grueling hours, being paid by the piece or making barely over minimum wage. Workers can be fired and deported back to their home countries for minor reasons, with little to no protection or recourse. The victory at Highline Mushrooms farms is a major step forward to changing the industry.

This is the first group of migrant agricultural workers in Canada to collectively exercise their fundamental right to join a union for many years: this victory reflects Highline Mushrooms workers’ courage and determination. The key concerns for the workers at Highline Mushrooms are improving health and safety, ensuring a safe and fair work environment, being treated with dignity and respect, and the ability to bargain collectively.

“This victory is important because the union UFCW 1518 now represents us, and we now have the support and ability to truly assert our rights as migrant workers,” says Ulises, a Highline Mushrooms worker. “With the support of our union, the UFCW, we will achieve greater dignity and respect, better working conditions, proper PPE, and more.”

“Congratulations to our newest UFCW 1518 members at Highline Mushrooms, for asserting their rights and demanding that their voices are heard,” says Patrick Johnson, President of UFCW 1518. “These workers are an essential part of the B.C. workforce and community. We look forward to sitting down with the employer as soon as possible to negotiate a fair collective agreement.”

UFCW Canada commends the B.C. NDP government for making significant steps to better protect agricultural workers’ rights. In 2022, card check legislation was implemented, allowing for a greater balance in the workplace and the practical ability of marginalized workers to realize their labour rights.

“Labour rights are human rights, and we are proud to welcome mushroom workers into our UFCW family,” says Shawn Haggerty, National President of UFCW Canada. “We are also looking forward to developing a constructive relationship with Highline and its parent company Sumitomo-Fyffes, as social partners committed to advancing decent work and socially sustainable supply chains for the agrifood sector.”

This victory by the workers at Highline Mushrooms is also a victory for the worldwide food workers’ movement. Committed to helping workers empower themselves, UFCW Canada works closely with the International Union of Food International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) to connect Highline Mushrooms workers with other Sumitomo workers in countries around the world to build global solidarity.

“This victory in Canada provides inspiration to migrant food workers throughout the world, who are the backbone of the global agrifood industry,” says Sue Longley, General Secretary of the IUF. “This transnational corporation has made strong commitments through their global policies about fully respecting their workers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and we trust that they will honour these principles. The world, and the global food workers’ movement, is watching.”

UFCW Canada (the United Food and Commercial Workers Union) represents more than 255,000 members across Canada working in every sector of the food industry from field to table. For 30 years, UFCW Canada has been the leading voice and advocate for domestic and migrant agricultural workers.

Derek Johnstone, UFCW Canada
Phone: 416-679-3417