Alberta opposition calls for shutdown of Cargill plant
Alberta’s Opposition NDP, along with union leaders, is calling on the province to shut down a Cargill meat-packing plant so it can be determined whether the company is meeting legal obligations to involve workers in safety concerns.
According to Canadian Press, an Occupational Health and Safety report says Cargill didn’t include workers in an internal review last month of circumstances that led to about 950 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in employees at the plant in High River, Alta.
The department has given the plant, which has 2,000 workers, a week to make that happen.
The Alberta government announced Monday that a second employee at Cargill had died of COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, one death reported over the weekend was an employee from Cargill who fell ill last month,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, told Canadian Press. “Although we are speaking about this today, the individual was hospitalized about a month ago.”
The union said more employee involvement is needed to make sure the slaughterhouse is safe.
“If workers aren’t in the process of determining if the workplace is safe, they’re not going to feel safe in returning to work. It’s a matter of not just procedure and law, but also of the perception among our members as to whether or not the plant is safe,” said Michael Hughes of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.
Hughes said the union has been asking to be involved in a review of the plant since the outbreak began.
“We don’t know how the plant can be open today if a proper investigation has not been carried out. Thus far, it appears that Cargill is going to do what Cargill is going to do. And really we’re kind of like a voice in the wilderness.”
Christina Gray, labour critic for the NDP, told a news conference it’s frustrating that the United Conservative government hasn’t guaranteed the safety of Cargill workers.
“If Cargill can’t follow the law, they shouldn’t remain open. Full stop.”
The plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day — more than one-third of Canada’s beef-packing capacity.
It shut down for two weeks in April over the outbreak, but reopened last week.
The province said Monday there are 36 active cases among workers from the plant, and 911 have recovered.