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Workers at 3 Ontario Maple Leaf Foods plants left wondering about their futures

All 1,490 jobs will be consolidated into a new $660 million state-of-the-art London facility

Union officials at the three Maple Leaf Food plants set to close as part of the company's consolidation into a new, state-of-the-art London, Ont., poultry processing facility said their members are shocked, concerned and have many questions that remain unanswered by the company. 

It's been all they've known for some of these workers.- Don Taylor, UFCW Local 1006A

Maple Leaf Foods announced Tuesday it would shutter meat processing plants in Toronto, Brampton and St. Marys, potentially putting 1,490 people out of work in order to consolidate its poultry operations at a new $660-million London plant, set to open in 2021 that would bring an equivalent number of jobs to the city.  

While smiling politicians from all stripes and all levels of government gathered for the announcement at an industrial research centre on London's southern rim, union officials say the lives of the hundreds of workers at the three plants that have been slated for closure have been thrown into disarray. 

Total number of unionized workers at each of the three Ontario plants set to close: 

  • Toronto: 681
  • Brampton: 324
  • St. Mary's: 485

Total: 1,490

"The members were quite shocked," said Don Taylor, the Director of Central Ontario for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1006A, the union that represents 681 workers at the Toronto Maple Leaf Food processing plant.  

"How else do you react when you're told your plant is going to close?"

Taylor noted the announcement comes only a few months before Christmas and has left hundreds of workers and their families wondering about their futures. 

Number of initial jobs at the new, consolidated London plant: 1,450

"There's been long service workers there, some for 30 years, some for 15 years plus. It's been all they've known for some of these workers." 

The reaction by unionized workers at meat plants in Brampton and St. Marys was similar, according to Tim Deelstra, the spokesman for UFCW Locals 175 and 663, the unions representing both plants and their combined 819 workers. 

Average union wage at three three Maple Leaf Foods plants set to close:

  • Toronto: $20 an hour
  • Brampton: $21 an hour
  • St. Marys: $23 an hour

"The mood is one of concern," he said. "It is not going to be great news for the community of St. Marys, Brampton or Toronto because those jobs are going to be consolidated into London." 

Maple Leaf Foods President and CEO Michael McCain said with the closure of the three existing plants, there will be a net loss of 300 jobs.

"We fully expect to grow back into those 300 jobs over the years following the startup," he said. 

McCain said the new London factory is expected to break ground in the city's south-end in the spring of 2019, with the factory becoming operational in 2021 and workers at the company's three existing plants will get a chance to move with the company's poultry operations.

"We will make it a priority," he said. "There's two to three years time to work with all of our people to transition, into this facility and other facilities in the Maple Leaf network." 

Still union officials, who are currently in the midst of hammering out a new collective agreement with the company at its Toronto plant, said Tuesday that they have not received McCain's promise from the company in writing. 

"Those are not guarantees," said Don Taylor, who speaks for UFCW Local 1006A, the union representing 681 Toronto poultry processing workers. "As to how many and what that would entail, that is still to be determined." 

"They still haven't really disclosed what the hourly rate will be [at the new London plant]," he said. 

Taylor said now that the company has announced the consolidation, the union can seek to secure a closure agreement for the Toronto plant that will ask for enhanced severance, retention bonuses and extension of benefits on top of a new collective agreement. 

"We have some bargaining power," he said. "We have a whole lot more say than we would otherwise." 

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