Union leader calls UCP decision to green-light Cargill plan 'reckless and morally repugnant'
EDMONTON - “The Cargill meatpacking plant in High River should not be re-opened until the people who work there are satisfied that it’s safe to return to their jobs. That’s not the case, so it should remain closed.”
That was the blunt assessment from Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, after the Alberta government gave the green light to the company to re-open the plant where more than 820 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past three weeks.
“What’s happening here is shocking, outrageous, reckless, irresponsible and morally repugnant,” says McGowan.
“The number of people testing positive at the plant has been increasing by dozens and dozens every day for the past three weeks. Now the government and the company say everything is fine. These are the same people who ignored workers’ concerns for weeks and held a virtual townhall to reassure employees that everything was under control the day before the plant had to be closed because of a worker death. They lied to workers and Albertans before, why on earth should we trust them now?”
McGowan says Premier Kenney is taking an insulting and arrogant ‘father-knows-best’ attitude. “But if he’s so confident that everything is safe in the plant, let’s see him, or a few of his toxic lackeys, volunteer for a few shifts.”
McGowan says the union representing workers at the plant, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, has still not been granted a single meeting with Cargill management, Alberta Health Services of the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of the Labour department – even after workers began to die and it was confirmed that the plant is responsible for more than a quarter of Alberta’s cases of COVID-19.
“The workers who have been infected and hospitalized have not been given a say in this process. Neither has their union, despite the fact that it has demonstrated expertise in workplace health and safety and despite the fact that it offered the employer and the government a long list of suggestions to make the workplace safer three weeks ago,” says McGowan.
“Ignoring and sidelining workers and their unions seems to have become a core operating principle for the Kenney government. They’ve done it with the doctors, now they’re doing it with meatpacking workers. It’s almost pathological for them. But dealing with a workplace outbreak without including input from front-line workers flies in the face of Canadian best practices when it comes to workplace health and safety. And it has already contributed to unnecessary infections and fatalities.”
McGowan says the Kenney government’s decision to re-open the plant, the day after American president Donald Trump issued an executive order to keep US meatpacking plants open despite on-going outbreaks and fatalities, shows that Kenney has become a “mini-Trump” and who is trying to make Alberta look like a northern version of a backward, anti-worker Republican state.
“Like Trump, the Kenney government is carrying water for a big corporation and prioritizing steaks and hamburgers over human life. This lays the lie to the platitude ‘we’re all in this together’ that Kenney and other members of the UCP caucus have been spewing for weeks. We’re all in this together; unless you’re a recent immigrant with no influence or power. We’re all in this together; unless you’re a lower-paid worker who has the misfortune of working for a corporate CEO who wants to gamble with your health so he can continue to live the high life. It’s disgusting and Albertans shouldn’t condone it or look the other way.”
McGowan says the unions affiliated with the AFL will support UFCW 401’s efforts to fight the premature re-opening of the plant.
Director of Communications, AFL