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Cargill reopens High River processing plant

Cargill reopens High River processing plant

The site shut down for 14 days after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

The Cargill protein processing facility in High River, Alta., resumed operations Monday after a two-week shutdown.

The company closed the doors to the plant, which accounts for almost 40 per cent of national beef production, on April 20 after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility. In total, more than 900 employees have tested positive for the illness and one has died.

In preparation for the reopening, Cargill, with support from Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Occupational, Health and Safety (OHS), has implemented multiple measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

These include

  • the mandatory use of face masks
  • reducing crowding in locker rooms
  • providing buses that have been retrofitted with protective barriers to reduce carpooling
  • installing protective barriers between employees on the production floor

The provincial government will be monitoring the situation closely, said Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s minister of agriculture.

“AHS and OHS have the legal authority to issue a stop-work order if they believe it’s required. Due to the protocols in place, they did not deem (the order) necessary,” he told in an emailed statement. “Expert health and safety officials are making these decisions, including Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health” Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Employees at Cargill and similar businesses were deemed essential by the provincial government.

Resuming operations will help producers who have cattle to market and consumers looking for fresh, local products.

“We know being an essential worker is challenging and we thank our team for working so hard to deliver food for local families, access to markets for ranchers and products for our customers’ shelves,” Jon Nash, North America protein lead with Cargill, said in a statement on April 29.

The union representing Cargill’s employees at the High River facility is working to get a stop-work order issued by the courts.

Workers are reluctant to go back to work, the president of UFCW Local 401 said.

“Well, the workers are scared,” Thomas Hesse told CTV Monday. “We spoke to over 600 workers (and) 85 per cent of them told us they were scared and 80 per cent of the workers told us that the plant should not reopen …”

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