Union takes legal action to block reopening of Cargill beef plant

Update, as of 2pm MDT May 3: A Cargill spokesperson says the company has nothing new to report regarding plans to operate one shift beginning May 4.

The union that represents approximately 2,000 workers at Cargill’s beef processing plant at High River, Alberta, has filed legal action in an attempt to block the reopening of the facility on Monday, May 4.

Cargill announced on Wednesday that it plans to resume one shift at the plant on Monday, after being forced to close due to a large outbreak of COVID-19 among employees. As of Friday, Alberta Health Services reported 921 cases among employees or contractors at the plant, while one employee in her 60s who had COVID-19 passed away.

On Friday (May 1), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 filed an Unfair Labour Practice Complaint against Cargill and the Government of Alberta. A day earlier, the union filed a request for a stop work order, and an Occupational Health and Safety investigation with Alberta Labour and Immigration and Alberta Occupational 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,” says UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse, in a statement issued late Friday.

Cargill’s Jon Nash told RealAgriculture earlier in the week that the company has been working “in partnership with health, regulatory officials and after taking actions suggested by the local union, we have decided to reopen our facility in High River, following a 14-day idle.”

“Over the last 14 days, we have taken several additional actions to manage COVID-19 and make our facility an even safer place for our employees to work. We’ve been in regular communication with the union, AHS, and OHS and have welcomed them for site visits, which served to validate the enhanced safety measures in our facility,” he said.

The Cargill High River plant accounts for around 36 percent of Canada’s cattle processing capacity.

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