On Wednesday afternoon, 125 labour and community activists assembled outside of Fiera Foods for a solidarity rally organized by Fight for $15 & Fairness and Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP).
Last week, Enrico Miranda, a 57 year old father of two, was killed at work. As Toronto Star journalist Sara Mojtehedzadeh reported: “He is believed to have been crushed by a machine that turned on while he was cleaning it.”
Miranda is the fifth temporary worker to die at Fiera, a massive food processing plant in North York that supplies Sobeys, Loblaws, and major fast food outlets. It relies on temp work agencies to supply 70% of its daily workforce.
Following this most recent workplace tragedy, the owners of Fiera quickly resumed business as usual. But not today. Fiera cancelled shifts and told workers not to bother showing up.
This mandatory unpaid day off speaks volumes about the employment practices of Fiera, a company founded by Boris Serebryany and Alex Garber in 1987.
Organizers shared a statement written by a Fiera temp worker “Every time a worker gets killed at work,” they wrote, “they don’t even shut down the operation. There’s no closure, so there’s no respect for our co-worker who died, or for us. They are heartless. A union rep came to give flyers to workers, but management forced us to throw them in the garbage.”
“They are aggressively commanding us,” the letter continues. “And all of us are immigrants. Don’t they have respect for workers’ rights and human rights? We can see racism in the way people of colour are treated. We demand respect. We demand better working conditions, safe jobs, better pay, and benefits.”
Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre highlighted in her speech during the rally the painful irony that Fiera was given $4.7 million in government grants to create “good jobs” despite accumulating more than 200 serious health and safety violations over the past three decades.
Part of the reason Fiera can get away with this is because it benefits from legal loopholes that allow companies to say they are not responsible for the temporary workers in their facilities. The legal liability for injuries falls upon temporary staffing agencies, which are sometimes “fly-by-night” operations – not on the actual place of work.
Temp workers are twice as likely to get hurt on the job as non-temp workers. Many workers are “permanently temporary”, meaning that they can perform the same job for years at a time, even side-by-side with non-temp workers, without being entitled to the same wages or workplace protections as their colleagues.
“This cannot be allowed to continue,” said Ladd. “The Ford government needs to hear this message. Workers lives are not expendable. Workers do not just exist to create profits for companies like Fiera Foods.”
“The culture of fear in this workplace is phenomenal,” Farid Partovi of JFAAP added. “The employer took flyers away from workers because they don’t want workers to know about their rights. But we’re going to continue building alliances with workers on the inside. Together we can hold this company accountable and also make sure that things will change.”
Friends of Miranda’s family have started a funeral fund and are seeking to raise $10,000.
Fight for $15 & Fairness is circulating a petition addressed to Premier Ford that includes a list of necessary changes to temp work legislation.