New Brunswick

Maple Leaf meat-packing plant in Moncton packs it in for good

Maple Leaf Foods closed its Moncton plant on Friday and its last employees will be let go next month, following decommissioning.

Previously-announced closure completed Friday, last employees will be let go after decommissioning Oct. 24

The former Hub Meat Packers, once Moncton's largest private sector employer, is packing it in for good.

Maple Leaf Foods, which took over the plant in 2000, has completed the previously-announced transfer of production to its other "higher-efficiency" facilities in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Hamilton, officials announced on Friday.

Decommissioning of the meat plant in Moncton will be complete by the end of October, Maple Leaf officials say.
About 30 of the last 100 employees were let go on Friday.

The remainder will be gone by Oct. 24, when decommissioning of the facility is completed.

For meat plant workers, it's been death by a thousand cuts, according to Sharon Morris, who worked at the plant for more than 30 years before retiring, including a stint as union secretary.

The plant's 48-year history has been tumultuous, with takeovers, layoffs and lockouts, said Morris, who recalls three lockouts during the 1980s alone.

When she started at the plant in 1974, there were only about 100 or 200 employees. But those numbers grew.

"At one time, I think there were over 500," said Morris, who worked in the packaging room.

As the technology changed, so did the way she did her job, she said.

Morris remembers a time before machines were used to seal packages of ham.

"Years ago, we would put it in a plastic bag and dip it in water, and then had a machine and it sucked the air out of it, and then you pushed it back and clipped it with a clip."

'Legacy plant'

Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, refers to the Moncton facility as a "legacy plant."

But the closure will improve the company's competitiveness and profitability, he said.

"We are committed to doing this in a way that is respectful and fair to our people, working closely with communities to support their transition to other employment," McCain said in statement.

An adjustment committee, struck in 2012, established a learning centre to provide employees with new skills training, job search and career development assistance, he said.

The plant closure was announced in October, 2011.

The Toronto-based company, which processes meats and other foods, said it would be investing about $560 million in upgrades to boost competitiveness and profitability.

Maple Leaf employs about 12,000 people across Canada and exports to more than 20 global markets, officials said.