Close to 1,000 workers on strike at Cargill’s beef processing plant in Guelph

GUELPH – Hundreds of workers at Cargill’s beef processing facility in Guelph started their day on the picket lines on May 27 as the union representing frontline workers at the plant took strike action.

“The plant is shut down,” said Sam Caetano, director for region six of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 175.

The union represents close to 1,000 workers who process cattle at the Dunlop Drive facility.

In April those union members gave a strike mandate to their negotiating committee, which raised a number of issues at the bargaining table, stated a news release from UFCW Locals 175 and 633. 

Among those issues were the increased cost of living, and the cessation of a $2-per-hour pandemic pay.

Money was a sticking point, said Caetano, noting the company had offered a four-year agreement, and “believed it was a very good offer with improvements and increases in wages every year,” but it wasn’t enough for workers.

“They believe there was not enough money for them to accept the recommended settlement.”

In a May 26 vote, 82 per cent of Local 175 members rejected a negotiated settlement. They were officially on strike as of 12:01am on May 27.

Eng Same works in the company’s shipping and receiving department. He said in the 35 years he has worked for Cargill, this is the first time he’s been on strike.

It’s necessary because of the increased cost of living, particularly gas and rent, said Same, who commutes from Elmira.

It’s even more difficult for the many newcomers to Canada who are employed by Cargill, Same said.

“They’ve got to send money back home, they have to pay rent, they have to pay for food,” he said, noting they came to Canada for a better life, but are struggling.

While on the picket line, workers will get paid $450 per week strike pay, and they commit to walking the line for a minimum of 30 hours per week.

“We hope it’s like a week or two, no longer than that,” said Same.

“The decision to go on strike is never easy but these members aren’t satisfied with what the company has brought to the table,” UFCW Local 175 president Kelly Tosato stated in the release. 

In an emailed statement,  Cargill said the company is disappointed by the outcome.

“Our proposed agreement, which the union bargaining committee unanimously recommended as a comprehensive proposal, honours the tremendous skill and dedication of our Guelph workforce in feeding families across Canada,” the statement said, going on to express concern for the hardship a labour disruption will cause both workers and Cargill customers.

“While we navigate this labour disruption, we will shift production to other facilities within our broad supply chain footprint to minimize any disruptions to our customers.”

Caetano was on site on Monday and Tuesday helping workers get organized.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had a labour dispute with a Cargill plant in Ontario,” he said.

He said there were approximately 600 workers from the day shift on the line Monday morning, and groups of afternoon and night shift workers who would take their place later.

He could not say when negotiations might resume.

“We will be working with the union on next steps once we hear more from them,” said the Cargill statement.