Former Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods workers gathered Thursday to speak out about how the company laid them off after they voted on whether to form a union.

The company let 19 workers go on Nov. 18, two weeks after the vote. 

Harvest Hemp

Workers who were laid off from Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods have filed a complaint with the Manitoba Labour Board arguing the company tried to interfere with employees' efforts for form a union. (CBC)

​Reggie Marco, who said he has worked at the company for more than 3½ years, said most of those laid off had signed cards in favour of the union. 

"It's really sad because now Christmas is nearing and the families of the affected workers are also sacrificed," he said.

"Some of us are depressed. And what we want is to raise our voice to not be discriminated [against] because we feel that [we have been]."

Marco said he contacted a union organizer in September that a number of workers were interested in forming a union, but the vote was 25 to 25. And now, nearly half are without a job.

"Most of the workers are working for so many years, nine years, 10 years," he said. "Their performance is great so why the company did this to us? And then they say the company [has a] shortage of work but we feel this is not true."

Families, immigrants hit hard by layoffs 

Young families and new immigrants are affected by the job losses, and it hits particularly hard as the holiday season approaches, said Diwa Marcelino, the spokesperson for the dismissed workers.

"

[They had] just bought their houses and cars.… It's also nearing Christmas, so all those combine to create a lot of anxiety for [them] and their families," he said.
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods b

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods belongs to the Manitoba Food Processors Association, which promotes Manitoba food products under the Buy Manitoba label. (100 acre wood photography)

​The employees have filed an application to the Manitoba Labour Board seeking remedy for alleged unfair labour practice.

The application, in part, alleges the company tried to interfere with the formation, selection or administration of a union and refused to employ or continue to employ any person who was a member of a union or had participated in union activities.

Those who met that criteria and were already employed by the company were discharged from employment or discriminated against in regard to employment, the application says.

'We love our job'

Marcelino and the employees who were dismissed gathered in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at Israel Asper Way and Waterfront Drive on Thursday morning, which is also International Human Rights Day.

Reggie Marco said the protest was also an appeal to Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods.

Hemp workers

Former Manitoba Harvest employees protest their job losses, which came weeks after they voted in favour of a union. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"What we want is to get back our job. That's what we want," he said. "We are knocking on the hearts of the company because we are producing hemp hearts. Hearts, right? We are knocking on their hearts, 'Hey, look at what happened to us. We love our job. We love to work. We are here to work for our family. And then this is what happened." 

The company has not responded to CBC's requests for comment.

Compass Diversified Holdings, a U.S. company, made a deal to buy Manitoba Harvest for $132.5 million in June 2015.

Company promoted by Buy Manitoba campaign

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods belongs to the Manitoba Food Processors Association, which promotes local food products under the Buy Manitoba label.

"It's a growing company and has had a track record of rapid growth,"  MFPA executive director Dave Shambrook said. "It's a well-respected company, both within the hemp industry and in Manitoba's nutritional products industry." 

Shambrook said while the association is regularly involved with its members in terms of marketing, safety and human resources training, it is not involved with member companies' relationships with their workers, whether unionized or non-unionized.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the workers had been fired. In fact, they were laid off. It also said the workers voted in favour of a union. The vote ended in a tie.
    Dec 10, 2015 3:14 PM CT