UFCW 401 was born as Retail Clerks International Union (RCIU) Local 401 in 1953 with the certification of a Safeway grocery store in Edmonton. Over the next few years, the local organizes most Safeway stores in northern Alberta. Local 397 represented grocery workers in southern Alberta. The name changed to UFCW 401 in 1979 with the U.S. merger of RCIU with Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen (AMC). In 1984 Local 397 merges with 401 to create a single Safeway union. By the late 1980s other mergers lead to 401 being the sole representative of grocery workers in Alberta.
A 1996 strike against Safeway, perceived to be a failure by many, sparked a change in strategy within Local 401. They began organizing workers outside of the grocery industry and take a more militant approach to representing workers. Between 2000 and 2015 membership more than doubled. In that period they engaged in 10 strikes, many high profile and acrimonious, amounting to 215,000 lost person-days. One of these strikes included the first-contract strike at Lakeside Packers.
In 2017, UFCW 1118, the local representing most meatpacking workers, merged with Local 401, creating a single province-wide local for all UFCW members in the province. In 2020, Local 401 was the largest private sector union local in Alberta with almost 35,000 members.
Maria Dunn has written a new song about the COVID related deaths in Alberta’s Meatpacking plants. Listen to it here.
Read ALHI’s pamphlet: On the Line: Struggles of Alberta’s Packing Plant Workers
Visit: Packingtown Edmonton