“We are here for you:” Solidarity with Maple Leaf Edmonton Employees

After a barbecue was held by our labour allies outside the Maple Leaf Poultry plant in Edmonton on August 9, 2019, we received the below message from Jorden Bergeron, a union brother and member of the IBEW. He speaks from the heart with an important message for Maple Leaf employees wanting to join UFCW Local 401.

I am an electrician and proud member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). I’m a construction worker by heart, and while spelling and grammar may not be my thing, I want everyone to know about the power of having a strong union.

On a warm summer day last week, a number of unions came together to host a barbecue for the employees of Maple Leaf Foods, a poultry plant in Edmonton. Right now, those employees are trying to change from having the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) “represent” them to building a strong union with the help of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401.

We are a movement

I came to the rally to support these workers. There were folks there from many different unions: pipefitters, ironworkers, postal workers, Teamsters, and other UFCW members. The Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA) was also there. At the gate of the plant, right on the company’s side of the parking lot, there were CLAC representatives monitoring people and trying to convince Maple Leaf employees from joining us outside.

As lunchtime approached, we clapped and cheered at the entrance to the plant as Maple Leaf employees defied their bosses and CLAC representatives to come out and join us at our barbecue.

The event was personal for me. While we didn’t talk about it much growing up, my family is a union family. My mom worked for Maple Leaf at this very same plant for 23 years, until she retired in 2015. For a while, my mom had actually served as a union shop steward and was a leader in the plant. She was a proud union activist and knew the UFCW to be a strong union that supported its members.

As the barbecue kicked off, my mom stood right in front of the date to welcome employees. I watched as Maple Leaf employees came out to see my mom there, waiting to greet them. They’d say, “Claire, what are you doing here? Aren’t you retired?”

My mom simply replied, “I am here for you!” And they would hug her and talk with her and some of the UFCW representatives who were around.

Solidarity wins

One employee came out on her own. The CLAC representatives were standing at the gate, and they spoke with her, trying to convince her to not leave company property to attend the barbecue. She stood there, unsure of what to do. It must have been so intimidating for her.

My mom saw this and weaved her way through a crowd of people to get to the front. She pointed at the employee and said, “hey! I know you!” Just then, this Maple Leaf employee came running over to see my mom and asked her what she was doing there. She then went to get something to eat, and when she was done, she walked right past the CLAC representatives and back into work.

Nearly 5 years after her retirement, my mom still felt strongly connected to those employees at Maple Leaf. She knows the kind of work they have to do every day, and she knows that at a place like that, you need a strong union. My mom wanted the best for them.

With so many other union activists at the barbecue that day, my mom was not alone. We showed up for Maple Leaf employees because we know they deserve better.

United we are strong

New to the workforce or retired, we are all working people, and in our unions, we have a voice. We are all here doing everything we can to make a living and improve our living standards. We do that by standing united, educating each other about our rights, and encouraging more to get involved. We need to come out to our union meetings, attend rallies like these, wear union gear proudly, and most importantly, organize!

We need to show and tell the unrepresented (and underrepresented!) why we are proud to be part of real unions and a strong, diverse, and united labour movement.

It all starts when we are united!

In solidarity,

Jorden Bergeron
August 12, 2019