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Cargill High River set to re-open; union seeks preventative legal action


May 1, 2020
By Top Crop Manager

Following Cargill Canada’s announcement of their intent to reopen the High River meat processing plant on Monday, May 4, the union to which the employees belong has sought a stop work order from Alberta Occupational Health and Safety and filed an Unfair Labour Practice Complaint, naming both Cargill and the Government of Alberta as respondents.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401, the largest private sector union in Western Canada representing 32,000 Alberta workers mainly in the food processing and retail sectors, is concerned that the rapid push to reopen the plant is unsafe for employees. Several hundred of the facility’s 2,000 employees tested positive for COVID-19 when it was closed on April 20.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has said that a review has been conducted of the plant and the measures put in place for the safe opening and operating of the plant, and she believes they are sufficient to ensure employee safety.

UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse has issued the following statements on the union’s legal moves:

Cargill and the Government of Alberta have ignored our calls for a worker-centred approach to ensuring the plant is safe. Alberta Health Services inspection reports have not been shared with us, and Occupational Health and Safety inspections have omitted the serious concerns we have raised.

The whole point of having a union is for powerful, unqualified representation. One of the reasons that unions exist is to promote and defend the right to workplace health and safety.

It is our objective and role to use every legal avenue available to us to keep the Cargill High River plant closed until we are able to ensure the safety of workers employed there and that their voices have been heard.

Food workers are afraid to go to work in the current environment. They lack the economic security they need to recover, and they are terrified of bringing this illness to their families and communities. While they try to recover, their employer and government are telling them to get back to work. This recklessly endangers their lives and puts the interests of their bosses first.

As we bear witness to even more food worker deaths as similar meat plants across North America reopen, we consider the Trumpean push to resume production at all costs nothing less than sheer recklessness.

COVID-19 is a new and deadly virus affecting every person in the world. We are called upon to forget about politics and all of our traditional ways of thinking and to save lives. There is no vaccine, no treatment, and no cure. Why are workers expected to work without all necessary protections in this environment?