Location: Red Deer
Profile: Wayne Covey grew up in Halifax, the son of a shipyard workers’ union official. He interrupted his university studies in Nova Scotia to travel and work on offshore rigs and build land rigs. He and his wife chose to move to Alberta in 1979 and settled in Red Deer where Covey was hired as a beef hauler at Canada Packers. By 1981 he was president of UFCW Local 1118, and much of his focus was on responding to an “epidemic” of repetitive strain injuries that resulted from deskilling of packinghouse workers and having them work on relentless assembly lines.
Covey became a full-time employee of the union within a few years, assigned both to contract negotiations and strike organization. In a sector where master bargaining across the sector had prevailed for over three decades, the 1980s witnessed a massive effort by each company to gain competitiveness by reducing workers’ pay and benefits the most while extracting the most labour per second. The union response was a series of strikes that sometimes turned violent as workers confronted scabs and police. Covey was tasked with coordinating the meatpacking strikes in Alberta in 1986. He focused on educating members regarding their rights and urging cooperation across locals in different plants.
Keywords: Canada Packers; Cargill; Fletchers strikes; Gainers strike, 1986; Master bargaining in meatpacking and its disappearance; Meatpacking industry consolidation; Repetitive strain injuries; UFCW, Local 1118.
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Wayne Covey appears in the video: Summer of ‘86.