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This article was published 7/8/2009 (4434 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba Labour Board recently revoked Local 832 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union as the bargaining representative for the Mexican workers at Mayfair Farm in Portage la Prairie.
The labour board ruling followed a unanimous vote against union membership by 26 migrant Mexican workers in June.
"We're very happy about this," Heladio Martinez Perez, a migrant worker, said about the decertification.
It was June 2007 when the labour board upheld a vote to join the UFCW, taken the previous fall, by most of the workers at the Portage vegetable and fruit farm.
The labour movement applauded the ruling, but it shocked the farming community. Mayfair Farm had opposed the certification on the grounds that the workers were not Canadian citizens and not entitled to union membership. Later, the Quebec Labour Board certified migrant workers at three farms in that province.
More than 18,000 workers from Mexico and Caribbean countries are brought to Canada annually to help plant and harvest crops. About 1,000 migrants work in Manitoba. Working conditions have traditionally been set by the Mexican and Canadian governments.
The Mayfair Farm decertification vote wasn't unexpected. Shortly after the historic labour board ruling, most of the workers signed a petition asking for the certification to be overturned on the grounds they didn't understand what they had signed. The board ruled that any decertification vote could only take place one year after a contract had been in place.
A year ago, the UFCW and Mayfair Farm signed a three-year collective agreement, giving the migrant workers annual wage increases tied to the provincial minimum wage, overtime rates, seniority rights and a grievance procedure.
Perez, 42, said despite the benefits from the collective agreement, the workers still wanted to decertify.
The new contract gave the workers 15 cents more an hour over the minimum wage and called for a 25-cent top-up in 2010.
"We were making only 15 cents more an hour, and we had to pay the union $4 a week in union dues," Perez said.
Perez has been coming to Canada as a migrant farm worker for 18 years, the last 16 at the vegetable and fruit farm in Portage la Prairie.
He said the workers were disenchanted with the overtime provisions. It meant they earned an additional $1 an hour for working more than the regular 70-hour work week, Perez said, but no one earned overtime because the employer capped their work week at 70 hours to avoid the overtime payments.
"The overtime was very important to us," Perez said. "Now, without the union, we can work longer hours, and we even get a bonus sometimes."
Todd Giffin, a co-owner of the family-run Mayfair Farm, said the workers' vote to decertify was an endorsement of the farm operation.
"The guys voted unanimously, and I guess it means they're fairly happy with how we run the show," Giffin said.