Corbella: Cargill, JBS and province failed at keeping workers safe

Marco Green
May 4, 2020

Almost half of the company's 2,000 staff, 917 workers, have tested positive.

As of Tuesday, there were 759 cases of COVID-19 at the plant and one worker has died.

Cargill announced April 20 it was temporarily shutting down for two weeks.

"Food workers are afraid to go to work in the current environment", said the union, which has been critical of Cargill's coronavirus safety measures at the plant.

Alberta Occupational Safety and Health is investigating the outbreak, including any noncompliance with provincial worker-safety regulations, according to a Thursday posting on its website.

Hesse said the Labour Relations Board and OHS have the power to shut the plant down quickly, and both sides are having discussions.

Cargill said it completed a deep cleaning during the closure.

Almost two weeks ago, Cargill shut the plant down temporarily after one of its workers-a 68-year-old woman-died from COVID-19. Cargill has denied that, and said it's added a raft of new protections for Monday's reopening.

It comes the same week President Donald Trump made headlines when he ordered meat-plant workers in the show up for work, or else.

"No civilized country that has the rule of law puts people in this kind of jeopardy to put a hamburger on the table", he said. Cargill said in response that it is engaging in good faith with the union.

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.

"Her husband never got to say goodbye to her and now he's so depressed", said Antonio, whose group is helping him and numerous other infected employees' families. Citing experts, executives said that production is set to increase in the back half of May but will likely take months to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the plant had been linked with more than 1,200 COVID-19 cases, 821 of whom are workers. However, the agency's website said it plans to have officials on site when the plant reopens Monday, after conducting on-site inspections this week.

The news comes as the US meat industry warns of shortages as they are forced to stop or slow down production when workers contract the virus.

The plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle per day - more than one-third of Canada's beef-processing capacity.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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