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Potential strike action looms at High River Cargill meat-packing plant

File: Cargill beef plant is shown in High River Alta., on Thursday, April 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

UPDATE: Local 401 said the union served Cargill with strike notice on Wednesday, Nov. 10 during negotiation meetings. If a deal is not reached, a strike will start the morning of Dec. 6, the union said. 

More than 1,400 unionized workers at the High River Cargill meatpacking plant participated in a strike vote on Thursday.

The vast majority voted in favour of strike action. UFCW Local 401 said 97 per cent of voting members endorsed a strike. Close to 80 per cent of eligible voting members came out to vote, the union said.

After one day of mediation, the bargaining committee made the unanimous decision to ask the government-appointed mediator to leave the process so they could move forward with taking a strike vote.

Richelle Stewart, UFCW Local 401’s secretary-treasurer, said in a news release that members were bargaining to improve the working conditions at the plant. The central Alberta location had the largest COVID-19 outbreak last spring where close to 1,000 workers tested positive and three people died.

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Union spokesman Scott Payne says workers are “angry and frustrated” and feel as if “they’re not being respected” by the company as the latest mediation had changes to workers’ benefits that would cost employees more money in the end.

According to a news release, the union is asking to:

  • improve workers’ benefits
  • move workers who are given new jobs quickly
  • address COVID-related health and safety concerns
  • offer reasonable wage increases

“Either they get their stuff together, and they put a fair offer in front of their workers to consider or they’re going to be faced with a strike very shortly here,” Payne added.

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When asked for comment on the potential for a strike at the plant, Cargill told Global News: “As an employer who leads with our value to put people first, it will always be our goal to be a supportive employer and key corporate partner to the High River community. We are engaging in regular discussions with the union and are scheduled to meet again on Nov. 9 and 10. We remain optimistic that we can come to the table and reach an agreement.”

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The High River plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day — more than one-third of Canada’s beef-packing capacity.

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