'Been through hell': Alta. Cargill workers reject company's latest offer, strike action possible Dec. 6
The union representing workers at the Cargill meat-processing plant near High River, Alta. has overwhelmingly rejected the employer's contract offer and workers have voted to strike in early December.
In a release, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 says 98 per cent of members have voted in favour of job action if a deal is not reached by Dec. 6.
"These workers have been through hell. They want a fair deal and what Cargill has offered does not meet that threshold. Simply put, Cargill needs to do better," said union secretary treasurer Richelle Stewart.
There are an estimated 2,000 workers at plant, about half of whom contracted COVID-19 in the peak of the first wave in spring 2020. Two employees died, as well as the father of a worker.
CTV News has reached out to UFCW officials regarding the details of the latest offer and why it was rejected.
A Cargill employee approached CTV reporters on Thursday morning expressing anger and frustration with both the union and his employer for the handling of the pandemic, health and safety concerns, and contract negotiations.
"We’re tired. We’re tired of Cargill not listening to us, but we’re also tired of the union not listening to us," said Freddie Vasquez, who says he has been a cleaner at the facility for four years.
"We right now, should be outside picketing.”
Vazquez says the proposed pay raises and pandemic bonus is not adequate.
“(The company) kept saying that we are essential, and we appreciate you guys, thank you for feeding Canadian families. We kept hearing all of this during the pandemic, and then they decide to slap us in the face with $4.50?" he said.
"We are mad. People are willing to strike.”
Job action could affect supply and prices at grocery store meat counters as the site processes an estimated 35 per cent of Canada's meat supply.
Cargill issued a statement Thursday morning, calling the High River plant "one of the best workforces across Canada."
"And our proposal reflects their tremendous skill and dedication. Unfortunately, we have yet to reach an agreement," it read. "We remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement before the (Dec. 6) deadline. We are willing to keep meeting to avoid any labour disruption which is in no one’s best interest during an already challenging time.
"While we navigate this negotiation, we continue to focus on fulfilling food manufacturer, retail and food service customer orders while keeping markets moving for farmers and ranchers. If necessary, we will shift production to other facilities within our broad supply chain footprint to minimize any disruptions."
A potential December strike would also could come at a time when supply chain issues have already affected consumer prices.
This is a developing story. It will be updated throughout the day …