1,550 Maple Leaf jobs could be saved through sales

The union representing food processing employees facing layoffs say the company could save jobs if it finds buyers for the 10 plants it will shut down

October 21, 2011   by The Canadian Press

TORONTO—The jobs of 1,550 Maple Leaf Foods workers could be saved if the food processor can sell the plants targeted for shut down, according to the union representing those employees.

Finding buyers is crucial for workers in four provinces who will lose their jobs, says Wayne Hanley, national director of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The company will lay off employees at plants including:

    -1,200 employees in Kitchener
    -325 employees in Toronto
    -247 employees in Hamilton
    -332 employees in North Battleford, Sask.
    -461 employees in Moncton, N.B.
    -27 employees at a small facility in Winnipeg
    -87 employees at a distribution centre in Burlington, Ont.
    -37 employees at a distribution plant in Coquitlam, B.C.

Earlier this week, Maple Leaf announced it will cut the number of its plants to five from 17 by 2014 in a corporate reshuffling to improve profits and make the Toronto-based company more competitive.

It also plans to build a new distribution centre at a yet-to-be-disclosed location in southern Ontario.

After earlier plant closures, in southern Ontario, Nova Scotia and B.C., the company found buyers who have kept them going.

In 2010, Maple Leaf sold its Burlington hog slaughter plant to Fearman Pork for about $20 million.

“In Burlington, they had a pork plant and rather than mothballing it and closing it down, they found somebody to sell it to and partner with,” Hanley said. “It operates just fine.”

The food processor is also spending $560 million to build a new plant in Hamilton and upgrade three others in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Brampton, creating 1,150 new jobs.

More than half (670) of those jobs will be centred at the new plant in Hamilton, with another 345 added to the Winnipeg hub.

CEO Michael McCain stressed the company is looking for deals to line up alternate uses for the 10 plants and distribution centres it will close in the next three years.

The company did that in April, when it shut down the Berwick, N.S. plant, which is being converted to a smaller poultry processing plant for Eden Valley Poultry.

It was also able to find a buyer—Premium Brands—for its prepared meat processing plant in Surrey, B.C. in September, just weeks before it was slated to close.

While there are not many Canadian manufacturers the size of Maple Leaf willing to invest in such plants, there are a number of smaller, regional companies that may be looking to expand.

But the union representing about 1,200 workers who will lose their jobs at a century-old plant in Kitchener says that’s not good enough and wants the company to reconsider its decision.

Meanwhile, nearby Hamilton, Ont., where the company is opening a large new plant, will see hundreds of jobs added to the community.

Kitchener fought for the new $395-million plant, but the aging building being shuttered by Maple Leaf  also has potential for purchase by a high tech employer offering better paying jobs, which happened with many manufacturing plants closed in the area during the recession. Some properties were repurposed into offices for Google, Desire2Learn and others as the region becomes known as a technology hub in Canada.

Maple Leaf will book a $170-million charge for severance, plant closures and other costs.

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