Southern Alberta beef plant, shuttered over COVID-19, will reopen May 4
CALGARY -- Officials with Cargill Protein say they'll be reopening production at the High River facility starting next week.
The company released a statement Wednesday, saying it was taking the step with support of Alberta Health Services and representatives of Occupational, Health and Safety (OHS).
It says it plans to reopen the facility with one shift of workers on May 4.
The beef processing plant closed down for 14 days in response to hundreds of cases of illness being detected there among workers. During that time, the company says all of its employees did not have any contact with anyone and "should be healthy."
It says additional safety measures were implemented at the facility while it was closed including:
- reducing carpooling
- conducted in-person and virtual tours with OHS to ensure safety standards are being met
- added barriers in bathrooms and reassigned lockers for spacing requirements
- conducting extensive cleaning of all areas of the plant
- focused on education and awareness of social distancing protocol inside and outside of work
Cargill says all of its workers have received proper compensation whether or not they were able to work due to illness. Furthermore, all employees were guaranteed 36 hours worth' of paid work for the week of April 27.
“We look forward to welcoming our employees back and are focused on our ongoing commitment to safety. 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," said Jon Nash, Cargill's president, in a statement.
“We have been working in lockstep with AHS since early March to lead on the implementation of proactive safety measures within the facility. Over the last 14 days, we have taken several additional actions to manage COVID-19 and make our facility an even safer place for our employees to work. We’ve been in regular communication with the union, AHS and OHS and have welcomed them for site visits which served to validate the enhanced safety measures in our facility."
UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse was critical of the decision.
"This is reckless," he said in a Facebook posting. "This is Canada's version of Donald Trump ordering people to go to work in unsafe conditions," adding that the union is "pursuing every legal option available to stop the plant from reopening on Monday."
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday "they have taken every outbreak seriously."
"Effective outbreak coordination depends on close coordination between multiple partners," she said.
AHS says it is aware of Cargill's plan to reopen Monday.
"Measures are in place to ensure only healthy individuals work, and that the workplace continues to maintain all necessary social distancing and infection prevention and control measures," it wrote in a statement to CTV News.
There are now 5,165 cases of coronavirus in Alberta and the illness has killed 87 people.