Union calls for shutdown of Red Deer meat plant after death of man in 30s

·2 min read

The union representing workers at a Red Deer slaughterhouse is calling for its immediate shutdown after the death of a man in his 30s was linked to an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 said on Friday night that it had sent a letter to Olymel calling for a temporary plant closure, along with full compensation for union members.

As of Saturday, Alberta Health said 168 cases had been linked to the outbreak, 90 of which are active.

"We have a death, and we have a very large outbreak. So the company or the government needs to act and make sure there's some form of lockdown here, until eyes can get on this issue and we can have experts look at it," said Thomas Hesse, president of the union.

"[We need] meetings with the union and workers, to understand what's happening in terms of health and safety. It's completely unacceptable."

The outbreak at the Olymel facility was initially declared on Nov. 17, and the man in his 30s died on Jan. 28. Alberta Health said the man had no known comorbidities.

In his view, Hesse said one of the problems is that the Olymel business is growing and hiring more workers while the facility remains the same size.

"The big story here is, if we scan back in memory to the Cargill debacle … is a lot of policymakers and people said, 'Well, that'll never happen again,'" Hesse said.

"We're not asking that the business be shut down permanently. Maybe we need a few days, maybe we need a couple weeks, but when the numbers are like this and people die, someone needs to hit the pause button."

An outbreak at the Cargill meat plant in High River last spring saw at least 950 staff at the facility test positive, representing nearly half its workforce. A new outbreak was reported at the facility on Friday.

Richard Vigneault, a spokesperson with Olymel, said the company did not have comment on a potential shutdown while they continued to discuss with the union and work with Alberta Health Services.

"We are putting as much as what's needed to keep control of the situation and keep our employees safe in terms of health and safety," Vigneault said.

Close to 1,850 employees work at the Olymel plant.