THE SUCCESS OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKER’S UNION,
in the Province of Alberta
January 21, 2002
THE SUCCESS OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKER’S UNION,
The United Food and Commercial Worker‟s Union, Local 1118 is part of an International
membership of 1.5 million. In 1979 the Retail Clerks International Union and the Amalgamated
Meat Cutters and Butcher Workman of North America merged together to form the United Food
and Commercial Workers International Union. Canada Packers, Intercontinental Packers and
Fletchers Fine Foods, all in Red Deer, Alberta, would join together to become UFCW, Local 1118,
a membership of 200.
Today, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1118 is a thriving membership of
4000 members throughout Alberta. There are service centres located in Edmonton, Red Deer and
High River and 8 full time staff now service the needs of the membership.
This report will analyze the battles the membership faced, the growth of the membership and the
impact UFCW, Local 1118 has had in the community.
Rise to Success
Between the years of 1980 and 1983 most members of UFCW, Local 1118 enjoyed the benefit of
membership by receiving over $2.50 an hour in pay raises.
In 1984 after the contract expired on May 31, Fletcher‟s Fine Foods would inform the membership
that they would no longer recognize the union. Fletcher‟s applied to the Alberta Labour Board to
officially have the union removed at the plant in Red Deer. While waiting for the hearing to take
place at the Labour Board the company would hire new 300 employees and falsely inform them that
the plant was not unionized. Between June 1984 and January 1985, no union dues were deducted
nor were any grievances heard. UFCW, Local 1118 and representatives from the International
Union would present their case in front of the Labour Board. After hearing the facts, the Labour
Board of Alberta would order Fletcher‟s Find Foods to recognize UFCW, Local 1118 as the
members representation at the work place. In 1985 a new collective agreement was put into place,
however, the membership would lose a large portion of the language that protected their rights and
the starting rate would be lowered. The members now realizing managements true colors, made
sweeping changes in the executive board and a more militant shaped UFCW, Local 1118 was
formed. Albert Johnson would become president of the local and the membership would hire their
first full time representative, Wayne Covey.
With expansions at the Fletcher‟s plant in 1986 the membership would double in size to700. In May
of the same year the contract between the company and the membership expired. The company‟s
offer of poor wage increases and refusal to reinstate the language lost in the previous collective
agreement, sent 550 members on strike June 1, 1986. On June 4 the membership, after some
members were injured by speeding vehicles passing the picket line, decided to stop all vehicles.
Blockades were made by placing a large log on the road leading into the Fletcher‟s plant. At 6:00
a.m., earlier than usual, a school bus arrived carrying replacement workers. A 100 picketers rocked
the bus and demanded the driver stop, the driver accelerated past through the blockade. Three
picketers got they legs and feet trapped under the log and were dragged for 50 feet. Two members
suffered severe knee and leg injuries and one member nearly loss his leg and is permanently
disabled. The struggle would pay off. Ten days later, on June 14, both parties agreed to a new
collective agreement and by June 23 the membership was back to work. The new contract would be
2 years and the majority of the membership received $5.00 wage increases and full benefits.
However, this would not be the last battle the membership of UFCW would be forced to fight with
Fletcher‟s Fine Foods.
Once the contract expired in 1988 management at Fletcher‟s Fine Foods again, wanted the
membership to lose their working rights. The company‟s offer to the employees was to take away
the 37 hour a week work guarantee, mandatory overtime, change in seniority provisions and a 2
year pay freeze. With rising cost of living and already minimal working rights the contract was not
acceptable. When the membership collectively agreed not to accept the company‟s offer, Fletcher‟s
Fine Foods lock out 450 employees in August of the same year. The future was not looking bright
for the workers at Fletcher‟s Fine Foods. However, the membership knew that if they did not fight
for dignity and fair working conditions now, they would never get it. It would take 8 long months of
being locked out on the street, 3 sets of negotiation talks and sacrifices from the membership, but in
March of 1989 the membership would return to work with a 37 hour work guarantee, no changes to
the seniority provisions, mandatory overtime limited to 2 hours per day and 8 hours per week and
pay increases. The members of U.F.C.W., local 1118 sent a clear message to the company that
collectively they could demand respect and dignity in the work place. The battle was long and hard,
but one people were determined to win.
After this dispute the company had lost the memberships respect. No longer did they trust the
company and became more united than ever. It would take Fletcher‟s Fine Foods 8 years to have the
courage to challenge the membership again.
In 1990 Cargill Foods Limited, one of the riches privately owned companies with world wide sales
figures of 32-billion US in 1985, set up shop in High River, AB, a town of 7000 people. It‟s main
work force would come from the nearest city, Calgary. AB. Their intent was to operate without a
unionized work force, they would be wrong. Representatives from various UFCW locals and
International organizers joined together to educate the new employees at Cargill Foods of the
benefits and the need for union representation. The 450 employee body would agree to join together
and the first collective agreement would be signed by local 421P in 1990.
At the time of signing the collective agreement local 412P represented members at Devorkins and
Canada Packers in Calgary. Both of these plants were due to close within the year. Because of the
inexperience of the Cargill membership it would be agreed by the International union and the
members of 421P that employees of Cargill Foods would be best represented by a thriving local
with experience in the meat packing industry and the transfer of members from 421P to UFCW,
Local 1118 took place in 1992.
Peter Frost, a member with the Fletcher‟s unit and vice president of the overall executive board, with
years of meat packing experience and dealing with management, would be chosen to be the full time
representative for members with Cargill Foods. He moved to the High River office in 1991, a
position he still holds today.
Between the years of 1994 and 1995 UFCW, Local 1118 would expand their membership to the
health care working sector. Working men and woman at Lacombe foundation joined the
membership of UFCW, local 1118 in 1994. C.P.L would join in the strength of the membership in
1995 after a 5 and ½ week strike, battling the 5% Klein government role backs. Unhappy with their
locals representation workers at C.P.L would leave their union and join the strength of the UFCW
membership. When the rest of the health care sector was taking a 5% roll back in wages, members at
C.P.L took only a 3% roll back.
The membership continued to grow. As Cargill Foods became larger the membership rose to 1200 at
that plant. It was determined by the membership that there was a need for another full time
representative to fight the company‟s unjust disciplines and unethical work practices. Albert
Johnson, president of the overall executive board, would leave Fletcher‟s Fine Foods and join Peter
Frost in the High River office in 1996, he would remain president of the local. UFCW, Local 1118
would now have 3 full time representatives and a membership of 1600.
In 1997 the membership at the Cargill plant had grown to 1600. The membership shocked Cargill
management by voting 97% in favour of strike that year. Members were tired of managements
treatment and “being treated like slaves”. One member told CTV news “ I didn‟t come here to be a
slave, I came here to be a man.” The members together decided that the companies offer of $0.80
this year, $0.30 the next and $0.20 the final year of the 4 year contract was an insult and took on
one of the world‟s riches, largest privately, owned companies. On July 10 th, 1997 1600 members
where on strike and over 1000 UFCW, Local 1118 members blocked the entrances to the plant. The
fight was on. Barb Isman, a company representative, would tell the Calgary Herald “ This business
is one that requires us to be globally competitive, we are not in a position to provide remuneration
that which would place the plant in jeopardy.” The membership was not buying it. On July 16, 1997
Cargill Foods would place a full page ad in the Calgary Herald in efforts to convince members to
cross the pick line and return to work. Their efforts would be wasted, the membership continued to
walk the line, demanding fair wages and decent working conditions.
The picket line stretched nearly a kilometre long along Highway # 2A in southern Alberta. Members
set up tents and had bondefires at night to keep them warm. Trailers sported pro-union signs. On
July 26, 1997 the headlines read in the Calgary Herald “ Defiant strikers show no signs of giving
up.” The company was now using 200 non-union staff to run the plant and were processing 600
head of cattle a day, it was a far cry from the 4000 head a day the membership would of produced.
Peter Frost a full time representative would be quoted as saying “ We know what is going on in
there on a daily bases. Not everyone in there is our enemy.”
To help the picketers fight their battle, they were paid $190.00 a week from the International Strike
Fund, Canadian Counsel Strike Fund and the National Defense Fund. Mandatory picketing hours
were limited to allow the members the option of working another job while fighting this battle. They
also received support from other unions associated with Cargill Foods. The International
Association Operating Engineers and the Iron workers local 725 union with LaFarge Construction,
who were building a prefabrication water treatment plant at the Cargill facility left their work site
and refused to cross the picket line. LaFarge removed their equipment and their involvement came to
a halt. The Alberta‟s New democrats also got involved in the dispute by arguing that Alberta‟s
labour relation policies was unfair and may lead to a needlessly long and bitter dispute. Even people
of the community supported the battle on Highway # 2A. Larry Mackillop ,of Nanton Alberta,
wrote a letter to the editor of the High River Times “ Cows pasturing at my place took a straw poll
and moo-nanimously agreed with the Cargill strike. They feel that cutting back killing from 4500 to
400 cows a day provides them with a welcome summer break.”
On the 5th of August 1997 a new agreement between the members of UFCW, Local 1118 and
Cargill foods would be ratified. The start rate for production would increase from $8.00 a hour to
$8.80 a hour. After 3 months of employment the pay would increase from $8.50 per hour to $10.00
per hour and the membership would receive an increase of $1.50 over a 3 ½ year collective
agreement. New language was written in the contract to provide the members with better working
conditions and fair treatment at the work site. Members of UFCW, Local 1118 had won the battle
against one of the largest privately owned companies in the world.
In 1998 the membership again battled Fletcher‟s Fine Foods. The company was following the
pattern set by Maple Leaf Foods to lower wages and take away contract language. The membership
would walk the streets for 12 weeks. With a large portion of the membership disgusted with the
practices of Fletcher Fine Foods, when the company offered a huge buy out package, approximately
250 members took the offer. Other members took wage adjustment bonuses and some took wage
freezes. A 6 year contract would be signed on July 8, 1998. Fletcher‟s Fine Foods seemed to of won
the battle, however, today the company continues to pay a price with a high turn over rate and
In 1999 local 312A of UFCW approached the executive board of local 1118 and asked if they
would be interested in merger talks. It was determined by both memberships that joining the
membership of 312A who‟s workers were represented in the industries in the retail sector,
processing plants and several others industries would provide a stronger membership. The merger
took place on January 1, 2000. This would bring the membership of UFCW, Local 1118 to 4000
members and they now would have 6 servicing representatives and 1 office assistant. A new
executive board would be formed. Albert Johnson would remain as president and Jack Westgeest,
president of local 312A, would become the Northern Director. Wayne Covey would become the
secretary -treasurer and Jeff Gordon would be chosen to be the recording secretary. The number of
vice president positions went from 8 to 15 to ensure all membership had elected and fair
representation at the executive board. Later in the year 2000 the membership would add Michael
Toal as their full time W.C.B. representative and another office assistant to help service the
Making a Difference
In each collective agreement between the members and the companies they work for, there is
grievance procedure language. This language outlines the procedure to settling a grievance between
the membership and the company. Though each contract is a little different between time lines and
number of attempts to solve the issue, all contracts gives the greiving party the opportunity to have
their case heard in front of an arbitrator.
In 1999 the membership of UFCW, Local 1118 would win 2 major arbitration cases. The first case
to be won was vacation pay on wage adjustment bonus.
In the 1998 contract it was negotiated that members would have 3 options to the wage decrease at
Fletcher‟s Fine Foods. Members could either take A) a buyout and resign from the company and
receive their wage adjustment bonus as a severance payment, which they would receive 2% „gross
earnings‟ per week of eligible vacation, or B) receive a wage adjustment bonus and have their wages
adjusted to the 1998-2004 collective agreement. For the members with 2 or more years of seniority
they could wave both options and take a 2 year wage freeze. For those members that chose to take
the option of the wage adjustment bonus, a debate sparked over the issue of receiving holiday pay
for monies received on the wage adjustment bonuses. After meeting with the company and unable to
get the company to move on their position of not having to pay holiday pay on the bonuses.” a
arbitration date was set for February 18, 1999 in Red Deer, Alberta.
The arbitration case would be heard by Andrew C.L. Simms, Q.C.. Sean Day would be council for
the company and Dave Mercer would represent the membership of the local. Both sides would
present their case in front Andrew Simms and on May 14, 1999. He would rule on the case that the
company was to pay vacation pay on the employees „gross earnings‟ and that the wage adjustment
be included in the „gross wages‟. Members at Fletcher‟s who chose to take the wage adjustment
option received their 2% per week of vacation pay with interest.
Fletcher‟s Fine Foods efforts to eliminate the union would spark another arbitration case between the
local and the company. The company refused to let the safety representatives wear union stickers
which identified them as union safety representatives.
Commencing in 1989 it was agreed between the company and the union that members who were on
the union-employer health and safety committee would wear orange hard hats, this was so members
could identify the safety representatives easily. Following the strike in 1998, the company directed
all employees wear yellow hats. The union supplied decals for the new hard hats that would identify
the members of the safety committee. Fletcher‟s management would order all decals be removed
from the helmets. The case would be heard in front of Arbitrator Alan V.M. Beattie, Q.C. on June
22, 1999. Both parties would have the same representation as in the vacation pay case, Dave
Mercer for the union and Sean Day for the company. After hearing all the evidence, on June 20,
2000 the judge would find the company‟s rule banning the decals to be unreasonable and ordered
that the company permit the union safety representatives on the committee to wear the decals. He
also advised the company to return to providing color hats for the safety representatives. Today,
safety committee members where purple hats with the “UFCW Safety Rep.” stickers, thus allowing
the membership easy spotting should there be a safety hazard at their work site.
Later on July 27, 2000 the membership of UFCW, Local 1118 would challenge Cargill‟s Foods
decision on not to consider a statutory holiday pay as part of the weekly overtime calculation. The
issue was whether the hours paid for but not worked on Saturday July 1, 2000 counted towards
calculation of weekly overtime. The company contended that because the employees did not work
on the Saturday, they did not have to include that day in the weekly calculation of overtime.
Therefore the employees would only receive 48 hours pay at straight time for that week. The union
contended that the company should pay 8 hours as overtime, as if the person had worked that day.
Arbitrator Allen Ponak would hear the evidence from both Cargill Foods and UFCW, Local 1118.
Dave Mercer would again act as council for the union and Michael Ford would present the
On September 11, 2000 the arbitrator would award eligible employees who worked 40 hours
Monday to Friday of the week Canada Day fell in to be paid time and ½ for the statutory holiday.
Members would receive up to 4 hours additional pay.
Strategies to stay Successful
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union is comprised of the young and old, men and
woman from a diverse ethnic backgrounds. They join together with the common bond of working
for a living. Together over the years, with guidance from an experienced executive board and the
servicing of the full time representatives, they have achieved improvements in contract language,
wages, benefits, RRSP/pension plans, seniority provisions, job placement and safer working
conditions in the work place.
President, Albert Johnson stated in his interview, “The executive boards focus for the next 4 years
will be to educate the membership on their rights and how to deal with management. Servicing will
play a key role in the success of the local. Full time staff will continue to represent members in the
areas of grievances, Worker‟s Compensation Board claims, safety and contract language. The
steward body will be educated how to help the membership and provide leadership within the plant
Organizing the unorganized will be a primary focus for the local over the next 4 years. Members are
well aware of the benefits of unity and believe that all working people should have representation
and protection at their jobs. Attention will also be given to young workers in Alberta as they come
into the work force.
The number 1 reason why the local has been successful in the past and will continue to be successful
is the mistreatment people receive from their employers. It is thanks to unfair working conditions,
unsafe work sites and companies greed that people stick together. It is the only way to ensure no one
is treated as a slave and they receive fair pay for the work they do in providing the companies with
Impact of Success of UFCW, Local 1118
• By combining smaller locals together the local has expanded through out Alberta. The
joining of Cargill Foods, C.P.L. and Lacombe have added to the success of the local.
• Successful strike actions and arbitration cases has made a positive impact on members wages
and living conditions. One such example is the win of the $5.00 wage increase for the
members in 1986 at Fletcher‟s Fine Foods. The $300,000 dollar increased in 300 members
pockets over 2 years would help boost the economy of Red Deer, Alberta, a community
with only 50,000 people at the time.
• The United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1118 members goals to safeguard each
person‟s right to representation, fair pay for their hard work, better working conditions and
every working man or woman‟s right to join together has increased this membership by
2000 % in the past 23 years.
Impact of Success in the Community
Thanks to the battles fought against managements unfair offers and working conditions, UFCW,
Local 1118 has helped over 4000 men and woman be able to provide a decent income for their
families, and have more time to spend outside of the work place. Companies have to answer to the
membership when they treat a union brother or sister with disrespect and are accountable for their
actions. Members of UFCW, Local 1118 do not need to worry about unjust discipline with no
avenue to argue their case. Every member is represented and has the support of not only the
members within local 1118, but an International Union of 1.5 million members. Members of the
United Food and Commercial Worker‟s union also support Leukemia Research and local 1118 in
the year 2001 raised $10,000.00 for this cause.
Starting off with a membership of 200 members, the local has continued to grow with the joining of
members from C.P.L., Lacombe Foundation, Cargill Foods and the recent merger with local
Though this membership have not won all the battles, this report only touches on a few of the
success‟ the membership has achieved together. Whether it was good times or bad times they have
stuck together knowing that unity was their only chance to have a say in the work place and have the
right to safe and decent work conditions.
As long as there are companies that treat their employees as slaves and not human beings with a life
outside of the work site, the union will be necessary to provide protection for men and woman who
are forced to deal with the corporate giants. U.F.C.W., local 1118 with their superior servicing to the
membership, organizing plans and focus on educating the public and membership, will remain
successful for years to come.
Beattie, Alan V.M., Q.C.: In the Matter of a Grievance Arbitration Between Fletcher‟s Fine
Foods and the United Food and Commercial Worker‟s Union, Local 1118 -
Vacation Pay” May 14, 1999
Cunningham, Jim : “ Cargill Workers Told to Back Off”- Calgary Herald July 14, 1997
Cunningham, Jim: “Cargill Workers Reject Offer” - Calgary Herald July 15, 1997
MacKillop, Larry “ Letter to the Editor” - High River Times July 16, 1997
Ponak, Allan “In the Matter of a Grievance Arbitration Between Cargill Foods Limited and The
United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1118- Calculation of Weekly
Overtime” July 17, 2000
Simms, Andrew C.L., Q.C.: “In the Matter of a Grievance Arbitration Between Fletcher‟s Fine
Foods and the United Food and Commercial Worker‟s Union, Local
1118. - Union Decals” June 20, 2000
Building the UFCW: A History of Mergers - UFCW Webpage www.ufcw.ca
Cargill Foods Collective Agreements 1990 - 2000
Fletcher‟s Fine Foods Collective Agreements 1984 to 1998
“To all Cargill Employee‟s” Calgary Herald - July 16, 1997