Cargill is set to reopen its meat processing facility in High River on Monday.
The company says it's put in a number of preventative measures and has the support of Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety.
But it doesn’t have the support of the Union, the UFCW Local 401 talking with their lawyers to try to get the opening delayed.
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour supports the Union's move.
“The Cargill meatpacking plant in High River should not be reopened until the people who work there are satisfied that it's safe to return to their jobs. That is not the case. So it should remain closed. It's as simple as that.”
He says over 800 employees at the Cargill plant have tested positive for COVID 19 and two workers have died, while the JBS facility at Brooks has 300 COVID positive cases with two individuals in critical condition and another 12 to 15 people from the two plants.
He notes the government acknowledged that the Cargill plant was responsible for more than one-quarter of Alberta’s overall COVID positive cases, making the Cargill outbreak is the biggest outbreak not just in Canada but across North America.
“You know what's happening at Cargill, especially, but also what's happening at JBS and other meatpacking plants in the province is an indictment of the companies involved for dragging their feet in terms of not addressing the issue soon enough. It’s also an indictment of the Provincial Government, their doing a pretty good job in the community but not in the workplace.”
He says our (Union) members at Cargill, especially, but at JBS were starting to raise the red flag that something was wrong as early as the end of March.
“Three weeks ago the workers at Cargill and their union (UFCW Local 401) sent a letter to the Labour Minister, the Premier and the employer begging for operations at the plant to be suspended and they were ignored.”
He notes we don’t know what has happened behind closed of the plant but the government is telling us that everything is fine, it’s all been cleaned up and new measures are in place.
“If they're implementing all the things that we recommended three and a half weeks ago, why wasn't it done sooner? If they want to reopen that plant they need to have the confidence of the workers who work in that plant and if they want the confidence of the workers, why on earth did they ignore their pleas for weeks and weeks? Why have they not met with the union? Why have they not met with the workers? Why not have sought input and support from frontline workers? If they're so sure that they've got it right. Why have they not called workers in or their union to take a look?”
Alberta’s three meatpacking plants Cargill, JBS and Harmony Beef account for about 70% of the country’s beef supply.