Coronavirus: Cargill, union to have hearing with Alberta Labour Relations Board next week

Click to play video: 'Prime minister weighs in on Cargill situation as another death is linked to plant'
Prime minister weighs in on Cargill situation as another death is linked to plant
WATCH ABOVE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the COVID-19 outbreaks at several meatpacking plants in Alberta after another death was linked to a facility. Adam MacVicar reports. – May 7, 2020

The union representing workers at a Cargill meat plant in Alberta that’s the site of a large COVID-19 outbreak will have its concerns listened to by the Alberta Labour Relations Board at a hearing scheduled next week.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401 and Cargill spent the weekend in mediation, deemed an appropriate measure by the ALRB, a spokesperson said.

A hearing was supposed to take place Thursday, but has been rescheduled to May 14 and 15.

According to UFCW Local 401, there has been progress between the union and the company, which runs a meatpacking facility north of High River.

However, the union said it still cannot endorse the reopening of the plant due to lingering concerns regarding social distancing inside.

Last Friday, the union launched legal action requesting a stop-work order be issued by Occupational Health and Safety for the plant, which reopened on Monday after a 14-day temporary closure.

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The union also filed an unfair labour practice complaint. Both Cargill and the Alberta government are named as respondents.

Representatives from the union have been stationed at the plant, along with staff from Alberta Health Services and OHS, and health and safety meetings are taking place on a daily basis, the union said.

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The Cargill plant has been the site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in North America, with 945 workers testing positive and more than 1,500 cases linked to the facility.

Premier Jason Kenney said 85 per cent of the workers that tested positive have recovered.

On Thursday, health officials confirmed the death of a man whose son works at the Cargill facility, who also tested positive for COVID-19.

Armando Sallegue, 71, died in hospital on Wednesday after being taken to Rockyview Hospital in Calgary on April 22 due to COVID-19.

His son, Arwyn Sallegue, works at Cargill’s High River plant and also tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Arwyn, his wife and children are also showing symptoms related to the virus.

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“All of us will miss our dad,” Arwyn told Global News. “My kids are still hoping they’ll see their grandpa they are close to him. They made paintings of ‘get well soon’ and expected to have him home but everyone has accepted it.”

Armando, a resident of the Philippines, had been staying with his son and his family in High River since early this year.

“He was a man, a father you dream of, he’s a good man — even the people who just met him once, you feel at home,” Arwyn said. “A father full of wisdom guiding us and a man with respect and full of dignity. That’s the values he passed on to us.”

The family is planning a memorial for the weekend and will live stream it online so other family and friends can pay their respects, Arwyn said.

“I don’t blame anyone,” Arwyn said. “You cannot blame someone else, it’s a virus, it’s unseen.”

“We know COVID-19 has deeply impacted our community and our plant,” a Cargill spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our deepest condolences go out to the Sallegue family.”

Alberta’s Opposition NDP rose in question period on Thursday to ask the government about the second death and why the province did not close the plant after its first reported case on April 6.

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“If the premier or the government had heeded warnings from workers on April 12, this outbreak could have been prevented,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said.

“Instead, workers were forced to carry on, including Arwyn Sallegue, who was diagnosed on April 23. His father was also infected and 12 days later, Armando Sallegue was dead. So will the premier accept now that these deaths could have been prevented?”

“We could certainly track all the way back to the outset of the pandemic and say how things could have been prevented — all of these deaths could have been prevented had we taken the same measures as Taiwan and shut our borders immediately from hot spots of COVID-19,” Kenney responded.

“So, there will be time, Mr. Speaker, to do a full retrospective on things that went wrong at every level — nationally, internationally, and here, provincially.”

Cargill did not respond to Global News’ request for comment on Thursday.

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