Cargill meat plant seeing at least 45 new cases of COVID-19: union

The Cargill meat-processing plant located near High River, Alta. is facing at least 45 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the union that represents its workers.

Tom Hesse, UFCW Local 401 president, said it’s likely that the actual cases at the plant far outpace that number, given word he’s received of high absentee rates and the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

“When I first asked for this plant to close [in 2020], I essentially said what I’m saying now: go fast and go hard,” Hesse said. “Don’t wait. Do everything you can, and do it right away.

“And so what we’re saying to Cargill is, go fast, and go hard and protect your workers.”

The union sent a letter to the company on Jan. 6, requesting responses to the following:

  • Whether the company had completed an independent ventilation and air quality assessment.
  • Whether the company was providing employees with suitable masks.
  • Whether the company has adjusted its approach to sick pay.
  • Whether rapid tests are available.

Hesse said he has yet to receive a response to the letter.

A spokesperson with Cargill didn’t respond to a request for comment sent Thursday.

Earlier this week, Cargill spokesperson Daniel Sullivan told The Canadian Press that their production capacity has been unaffected during the Omicron wave.

Sullivan added that case numbers at the company’s facility “tend to ebb and flow with community numbers.”

The outbreak is not yet listed on Alberta Health Services online database. A spokesperson with Alberta Health said updated numbers would be provided on Monday.

An outbreak in 2020 saw at least 950 staff at the facility — nearly half its workforce — test positive.

Two workers — 67-year-old Hiep Bui and 51-year-old Benito Quesada — died of COVID-19, as did Armando Sallegue, a worker’s 71-year-old father.

Another outbreak was called early last year, prior to the emergence of the omicron variant, that resulted in dozens of cases.

Later in 2021, an on-site clinic was rolled out to immunize the more than 2,000 workers at the plant.

There is no mandatory vaccination policy at Cargill. Hesse said uptake for vaccinations was in excess of 85 per cent.

“But those were the initial doses. I have no figures on booster shots, and Cargill has not yet responded to my letter on whether or not they plan to have booster shot clinics at the site,” he said.

The plant processes about up to 4,500 head of cattle per day, representing a third of Canada’s beef.

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