More than 600 Maple Leaf workers will lose their jobs when a pork processing plant in Winnipeg closes later this year.

The workers at the Maple Leaf plant on Warman Road learned the bad news Tuesday afternoon.

While there had been talk about the company consolidating its operations, the announcement caught many at the plant off guard.

Robert Ziegler, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents plant workers, said the union was set to start contract negotiations with Maple Leaf on Wednesday.

"The company contacted us to say the meetings were cancelled and that they were going to be having a meeting of all the employees at the workplace today," he said Tuesday.

"We went to that, and that's where they announced the closure of the facility on a staggered basis, starting in June and a complete closure by sometime in September."

Maple Leaf blamed the high Canadian dollar for the plant closure.

Last September, Maple Leaf said it would invest more than $40 million in upgrades as part of a plan to centralize the company's ham-processing operations at the Lagimodiere Boulevard plant.

Some of the Warman Road workers could get jobs at the Lagimodiere facility, Ziegler said, although he noted those would be lower-paying, less-skilled jobs.

"Potentially, you'll have 600 people looking for work elsewhere," Ziegler said. "We hope to try to help them and do the best we can, but yes, there's a lot of people who got bad news today."