El Contrato is a 50 minute film documenting the journey of a worker from central Mexican to the greenhouses of Leamington in southwestern Ontario. It is about the struggle of agricultural foreign workers for dignity, respect and rights. After its release, employers in Leamington threatened legal action against the film’s creator Min Sook Lee and the National Film Board in an attempt to prevent its distribution.
For many decades, agricultural workers in Ontario have not been allowed to unionize. In the early 1990s, the Ontario NDP introduced legislation allowing unionization but this was repealed by Mike Harris. In 2008, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the law against unionization, but the Ontario Liberal government took the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Siding with the Ontario Liberal government, the Supreme Court of Canada found the law constitutional. Agricultural workers remain unable to unionize in Ontario.
A decade after this film was released, the Heinz factory in Leamington was scheduled for closure, destroying not only 740 factory jobs, but 350 jobs for agricultural foreign workers at over thirty tomato farms.