Hundreds of migrant farm workers unionize in B.C.

Hundreds of mushroom-farm workers in British Columbia have unionized in what they say is a push for greater job security.

The addition of 390 employees of Highline Mushrooms represents the "largest group of farm workers in Canadian history to join a union," the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union 1518 (UFCW 1518) said.

Most of the workers are migrants on temporary work permits, UFCW 1518 said, following certification at the company's Langley site on Monday.

Farm workers at Highline Mushrooms' four Abbotsford locations unionized in June.

"It's a huge first step, not only for these workers but for all workers in the industry," UFCW 1518 president Patrick Johnson said. "These workers are essential workers who are helping to drive the Canadian food economy."

According to the union, most of the members who signed on Monday are from countries like Guatemala, Mexico, India and Vietnam, and are in B.C. on temporary work permits.

"The biggest motivation to join UFCW is job security to have a personal peace of mind," Kulwinder Kaur, a Langley mushroom worker, said in a statement announcing the unionization. "If anything goes wrong or if the employer treats you unfairly, the union has your back."

According to Statistics Canada, Canada's agricultural industry employed about 70,000 foreign workers in 2023.

In a statement, Rob MacKay, the vice president of farm operations west for Highline Mushrooms, said the company respects the decision of its employees to be part of a union.

"We are proud to offer a work environment where our employees can develop meaningful and fulfilling careers.".

The company is based in Leamington, Ont., about 300 kilometres southwest of Toronto. According to its website, Highline Mushrooms is the world's largest organic mushroom grower. It's a subsidiary of Sumitomo, a Japanese-owned conglomerate.

Millions of cremini mushrooms grow at Whitecrest Mushrooms, a mushroom farm based in Putnam, Ont., whose products appear in everywhere, from the kitchen table to the back seat of a BMW.
Highline Mushrooms says it is the world’s largest organic mushroom grower. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Johnson said the employer had not put up any barriers to organizing.

"Huge congrats to these workers for stepping up to make that choice to stand together," he said.

The union and employer are scheduled to meet on Thursday. Negotiations for the Highline Mushrooms workers' first collective agreement have yet to start.

Single-step certification process

Johnson said the smooth union certification is a sign the province's single-step certification process is working.

In 2022, the B.C. government amended the Labour Code, making it easier to unionize.

Previously, the union needed to sign at least 45 per cent of workers at a job site and then hold a certification vote.

Now, if at least 55 per cent of employees at a job site sign membership cards, they automatically join the union. A vote is still required if the number of those signing up is between 45 and 55 per cent.