Posted on Apr 29, 2020
CARGILL REOPENING DOES NOT HAVE THE SUPPORT OF WORKERS
EDMONTON – Alberta NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray issued the following statement on reports that the Cargill plant will reopen on May 4th:
"This afternoon, we learned the Cargill plant in the High River area plans to reopen this Monday, without the support of worker representatives. Cargill is the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in all of Canada. As of today, 821 workers are sick with this deadly virus and one worker has died. At the JBS plant in Brooks, there are nearly 276 workers and contractors sick and one has died. We have been informed another five workers are in intensive care in Calgary hospitals. These workers are fighting for their lives.
“All of this was avoidable if the UCP Government and these companies had listened to the workers. It was the workers who first raised concerns about cramped working spaces and a lack of Personal Protective Equipment in early April. They were ignored and then people started dying. Finally, on April 20, the Cargill closed. Not because of anything Jason Kenney or the UCP did, but because the company finally acted. That was just two days after the UCP’s Minister of Agriculture insisted that plant was completely safe. JBS has still not closed despite a major outbreak and a petition started by the people of Brooks community where the plant resides, calling for it to cease operations.
“Now, today’s revelation that Cargill will reopen is proof that these companies and the UCP Government still refuse to take worker safety seriously. They value the companies and their profits over the people. This is a profoundly unCanadian approach. We’ve seen this before from Jason Kenney, he likes to take his cues from the current American administration. The United States President recently issued an order to keep American plants open, despite outbreaks and worker concerns. The United States has had one of the worst responses to COVID-19 and Albertans deserve a provincial government that can do much more than copy the failed American approach. Closer to home, worker representatives are being completely shut out of discussions about reopening Cargill and what procedures will be in place. The United Food and Commercial Workers asked that Cargill workers be interviewed about plant safety and that an independent review of the plant’s procedures be conducted. As best as we can tell, none of that has occurred.
“If the company won’t do what’s right to protect its workers, then the provincial government must. Premier Jason Kenney, Minister of Labour Jason Copping and Minister Agriculture Devin Dreeshen have done nothing to assist the workers or the broader High River and Brooks communities. They sat on their hands while COVID-19 spread through these plants. And now they could act by enforcing new Public Health Orders on these plants and they have refused. I offered to help in February and March. I raised concerns about adding inspections and resources to ensure worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. I emphasized the importance of Occupational Health and Safety as a significant part of the provincial response. It would seem those concerns fell on plugged ears.
“Just how many more workers at Cargill and JBS have to contract COVID-19 before Alberta’s Government will take responsibility? This is wrong. JBS should be closed immediately because of the serious safety concerns workers are raising. Cargill should not be allowed to reopen until all parties are satisfied that it is safe. And when the provincial state of emergency is over, a full public inquiry should be launched so that those who have failed the workers at these plants can be held accountable."