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‘Hundreds of workers suffering’: Union wants outbreak-stricken meat-processing plant closed down

Last Updated Feb 7, 2021 at 12:33 pm MST

The Olymel facility in Anjou is seen Tuesday, March 24, 2020 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

ALBERTA (660 NEWS) – A union representing thousands of workers in Alberta wants a meat-processing plant with a substantial COVID-19 outbreak to be shut down temporarily.

An outbreak at an Olymel pork processing plant in Red Deer, Alta., has led to the death of a man in his 30s, Alberta Health has confirmed.

According to the provincial health authority, there have been a total 168 cases of COVID-19 linked to that specific outbreak. Of those, 90 cases are still active while 77 people have recovered.

Thomas Hesse, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 union, says more than 85 per cent of workers are asking for the plant to be closed.

“We’ve asked Olymel to essentially shut it down temporarily, bring in some experts,” said Hesse. “We have lockdowns in society when we see numbers skyrocket, it’s only sensible to have lockdowns at workplaces as well when numbers are skyrocketing.”


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AHS says it is continuing to offer support in response to the outbreak, which was declared in November.

“Olymel has robust processes in place to limit the spread of illness within their facility and has strict protocols in place regarding physical distancing, PPE, disinfection and other safety measures to support physical distancing of staff,” AHS wrote in a release.

“Alberta Health Services is also providing another round of on-site prevalence testing for COVID-19, which began February 3, 2021. This testing is being provided on-site for Olymel employees and will help identify anyone who may be asymptomatic.”

AHS says more than 200 swabs have been completed as part of that testing.

Another outbreak at an Alberta meat plant

A second COVID-19 outbreak has been reported at an Alberta meat-processing plant.

The outbreak at the Cargill plant in High River, Alta., was declared on Dec. 16.

Two employees died and nearly half of the workers at the facility contracted COVID-19 during the first outbreak last spring.

“We continue to learn how to help slow the spread of the virus and are working with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to add safety measures as they become available to safeguard our valued co-workers,” Cargill wrote in an emailed statement.

“We are working with AHS to offer testing to employees who have been identified as having close contact. We also continue to work closely with health officials to ensure effective prevention, cleaning and quarantine protocols are followed within our facilities and beyond.”

READ MORE: ‘Megascale’ slaughterhouses, meat-packing plants put beef industry at risk: Report

Meanwhile Hesse is asking policy makers in Alberta to act sooner rather than later.

“How are we allowing Alberta to become this food processing, COVID humiliation – this food processing tragedy?” said Hesse.

“The premier steps in and imposes lockdowns and tells us that we can’t have a couple of people over to our homes, but turns a blind eye to hundreds and hundreds of workers suffering in these places.”