Cargill issues lockout notice to staff at one of Canada’s largest beef processing plants

A document from Cargill, provided by the union representing workers with COVID health and safety issues, says the company will lock employees out at the factory in High River, Alta., Who had previously voted to strike if they could not reach an appointment for just over a week.

A statement from the organization’s vice president of labor relations, Tanya Teeter – obtained and published by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 – says that Cargill intends to begin a complete lockout of all staff in the bargaining unit represented by the UFCW at the meat packaging plant from 6 p.m. 12.01 on 6 December.

“A lockout terminates your union contract and may allow an employer to require employees to return to work under the conditions the employer wants,” UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse said in a statement.

The company’s spokesman Daniel Sullivan confirmed the lockout notice on Thursday, which is in line with the strike notice deadline the company has previously received. He said the company and the union will meet again on November 30.

In a photo shared with CBC in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, workers are preparing beef to be packed at the Cargill plant near High River, Alta. Last year, the meat packing site was the site of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak linked to three deaths and positive tests among 950 workers and hundreds of family and community members. (Name withheld)

“Our team at High River is one of the best workforces across Canada, and our proposals reflect their tremendous skill and dedication. Unfortunately, we have yet to reach agreement,” Sullivan wrote in an email statement.

“We are willing to keep meeting to avoid work interruptions that are not in anyone’s best interest in an already challenging time.

“As we navigate this negotiation, we will continue to focus on fulfilling orders from food producers, retail and food service customers while keeping markets going for farmers and ranchers. If necessary, we will move production to other facilities within our broad supply chain footprint for to minimize any disruption, “Sullivan added.

Employees voted against contract offers

On Wednesday, the union, which represents workers at the Cargill meat packing plant near High River, Alta., Said employees rejected the company’s contract offer after a two-day vote due to health and safety issues related to COVID-19.

The prospect of a strike is gone Prairie farmers getting ready because the Cargill plant is estimated to process about a third of Canada’s beef.

Cattle producers have expressed concern about the potential disruption following an already severe pandemic and drought years. (Patrick Foucault / Radio-Canada)

The union said workers had rejected the company’s offer by a margin of 98 percent.

Workers have raised health and safety concerns about COVID-19, but also want improved benefits, wage increases and faster movement to new jobs once they have been hired, the union said.

Earlier, the union issued a strike warning warning staff to hit the strike line on December 6 if the desired changes were not made.

Last year, the meat packing was the place for one lethal COVID-19 outbreak associated with three deaths and positive tests among a further 950 workers – almost half of its workforce – and hundreds of family and community members. Another eruption in 2021 resulted in dozens of cases.

At the time, the union said that even though Cargill employees expressed their anger and frustration, they are still ready to make a deal.

Farmers fear another backlog of cattle processing

Melanie Wowk, a rancher and chairman of Alberta Beef Producers, told CBC News in mid-November that the possibility of a strike deeply worries ranchers who have been dealing with drought, soaring feed costs and pandemic disruptions for the past two years. which led to massive cattle backlogs.

She fears a strike at the Cargill factory will lead to yet another cattle backlog, pointing to those who experienced last year when the pandemic spurred temporary closures of meat processing plants.

The disruption of processing in North America pushed up meat prices in grocery stores, but had the opposite effect down the supply chain, where a backwardness of cattle occurred.

Farmers say cattle prices have not kept pace with rising costs, nor with beef prices seen in grocery stores recently.

They are also trying to deal with the fallout from the summer drought that hit grasslands and helped increase farmers’ feed costs dramatically.

Experts have suggested Up to 20 percent of the Canadian cattle herd can be sold from this fall and winter, as producers are forced to reduce the size of their herds or go bankrupt.

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