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High River Cargill workers being neglected PPE equipment amid COVID-19 outbreak

Last Updated Apr 18, 2020 at 7:40 pm MDT

An N-95 mask is seen in Toronto on Friday, March 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

HIGH RIVER (660 NEWS) — An employee at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River says the situation continues to get worse as many workers aren’t receiving proper personal protective equipment.

The province announced Friday there were 358 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among plant workers and their households in both High River and Calgary.

The employee, who did not want to be named due to their position, tells 660 NEWS members of management are being supplied with face shields while none have been given to workers in high-risk areas.

“PPE is a huge issue,” the employee said.

“I asked if [we] would be supplied a face shield and they said no due to a lack of equipment. Later that day, they handed out more face shields to members of management.”

Workers on the fabrication floor, where meat is cut and packaged, are supplied with hard hats, safety glasses, rubber and cotton gloves, steel toe boots, and ear protection. Recently, blockers were placed between cutting tables however other areas, such as the meat sealing station, require more than one person with little space between the two workers.

Meat cutters are using mesh gloves, aprons, and mesh sleeves as PPE.

Cargill allegedly only starting supplying paper masks on to all workers on Wednesday.

A letter issued to employees Monday, April 13, and obtained by 660 NEWS, asked those willing and able to keep working to contact management who would follow up later in the week. According to the employee, that has yet to happen.

The letter also states, “if you are willing and able to work on dayshift and/or work is not available for you (and you are not eligible for the Cargill Protein Isolation Compensation or other paid leave), you will be placed on temporary layoff without pay.”

The letter again asks for workers to contact management to receive their Record of Employment and to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

“[Workers] were trying to do as the letter said and stay home and wait for a phone call but the company is not calling so many people are going for the CERB benefit,” the employee said.

“I know for a fact a lot of workers when they showed up and were handed this letter, were asked if they were willing to come in and the majority said no because they felt unsafe. But others said yes and those who said yes had to write their name down on a sheet of paper to be contacted, but again have never been contacted.”

Cargill has between 450 and 500 people on the fabrications floor. When workers found out about how many people had contracted COVID-19, only 275 showed up.

Cargill is allegedly having issues paying its employees telling workers they are backed up, something the employee says they can’t understand given that less staff is showing up.

The Cargill plant employs around 2,000 people and can process up to 4,500 heads of cattle per day.

Jon Nash, Cargill Protein-North America Lead, said in a statement, “We remain focused on the health, safety and wellbeing of our Cargill employees as we all face the impacts of COVID-19 in High River.”

“Our values guide our decisions. We will not operate if we can’t do so safely or meet our high food quality standards.  We are making this decision day-by-day and keeping this plant running has been a challenge, despite the fact that it’s been deemed an essential service.”

Nash added they are working closely with Alberta Health Services who have reviewed and approved protocols including temperature testing, providing and encouraging the use of face coverings, and adopting social distancing practices where possible.