Cargill has served its unionized employees working at the High River processing facility with a lockout notice, set to begin at 12:01 am on December 6, 2021.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 had previously served Cargill with a strike notice with December 6 as the deadline.
In a letter dated November 25, Cargill outlined the lockout timeline, but did not give details on what the lockout may all entail.
“This is a complete lockout of all employees represented by UFCW at the above noted location,” the letter reads, referring to the High River plant.
Union employees voted against the most recent deal offered by Cargill on November 24, 2021.
The union notes its employees at the High River facility are in a legal strike position. Cargill’s response of a lockout also follows rules set out in labour regulations. A lockout blocks unionized employees from entering the facility, and allows the company to continue operating the plant with temporary replacements.
Cargill says that it has been in contact with the union bargaining committee and have agreed to meet next Tuesday, November 30, 2021.
“Our team in High River is one of the best workforces across Canada, and our proposal reflects their tremendous skill and dedication,” Cargill says, in its statement to RealAgriculture.
“Unfortunately, we have yet to reach an agreement. We remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement before the December 6 deadline. While we navigate this negotiation, we continue to focus on fulfilling food manufacturer, retail and food service customer orders while keeping markets moving for farmers and ranchers. If necessary, we will shift production to other facilities within our broad supply chain footprint to minimize any disruptions,” Cargill says.
“We hope to be back at the bargaining table before December 6, 2021, in an effort to avert a strike and a lockout,” union representatives said in an email to members. Cargill also notes that it is willing to keep meeting, saying a labour disruption is in “no one’s best interest during an already challenging time.”
Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) chair, Dr. Melanie Wowk, says that the producer group continues to monitor the ongoing labour dispute.
“We have connected with Cargill and the Government of Alberta, and remain optimistic that a mutually beneficial agreement will be reached between the two parties before December 6. Alberta’s beef farmers and ranchers rely on continuity in the processing sector and those workers who contribute to the success of our beef supply chain. During the height of the pandemic, we saw the impacts of a processing disruption, coupled with the drought and soaring costs of production, which continue to affect both cattle and beef markets. As the December 6 deadline approaches, we are strongly encouraging a timely resolution,” she says.
The Cargill High River plant can process 4,500 cattle per day, accounting for around 36 per cent of Canada’s processing capacity.