cargill meat plant alberta

Alberta meat plant is about to reopen but 85% of workers are afraid to return to work

A meat-packing plant in Alberta that represents more than one-third of the beef processing market in Canada is set to reopen its doors tomorrow after shutting down due to nearly half of its employees testing positive for COVID-19, but a new survey indicates that 85 per cent of employees are afraid to return to work. 

The High River Cargill plant employs roughly 2,000 people, and 917 of them have tested positive for the virus to date. On April 20, the plant announced it would be shutting down following the news that one employee had passed away from the illness. 

But last Wednesday they announced plans to reopen on Monday, May 4, and the union representing workers at the plant is taking every measure possible to fight back against the decision. 

"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," said UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse in a statement Friday.

"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."

UFCW Local 401 has sought a stop work order from Alberta Occupational Health (OHS) and Safety and filed an Unfair Labour Practice Complaint, naming both Cargill and the Government of Alberta as respondents.

This led to the Alberta Labour Relations Board scheduling emergency proceedings over the weekend to deal with the issue.

The union also conducted an internal survey of its members on May 1 and 2, and the results revealed that 85 per cent of workers are afraid to go back to work and 80 per cent don't think the plant should reopen Monday. 

According to CBC News, OHS is currently investigating the plant and provincial health officials will be on-site during Monday's reopening. 

CBC also reports that Cargill has said it will be providing personal protective equipment to employees upon reopening and changing policies to increase safety.

"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," Hesse said in the statement.

"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," he continued.

"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."

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