The door swings both ways at meat processing plants

I am somewhat alarmed that the mainstream media in Calgary/Alberta is relying on UFCW union local president Thomas Hesse and provincial NDP opposition leader Rachel Notely for the “facts” of what is happening at the Cargill meat packing plant at High River, AB.

In my books, in this instance, these two would be the poster children for “The Sky is Falling” reports on how the beef processing plant has handled the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak at the plant, which prompted its closure on April 20. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that both could be intent on making political mileage out the situation.

I certainly have no inside track on plant operations, but any media briefings I have been part of actually report that the company has taken extraordinary measures since the outbreak to improve worker health and safety measures in the plant. And in my opinion, the company has more to gain from ensuring a healthy work force, than encouraging or disregarding protocols that could lead to a sickened workforce.

Added to that, Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety officials have been working with Cargill on proper protocols to ensure worker safety. Those agencies supported the opening of the plant today, May 4.

Hesse blames the company and Notley blames the provincial government for promoting or perhaps ignoring circumstances, which saw 900-plus workers contracting the COVID-19 virus.

And perhaps they did, but I also have to wonder about worker responsibility in this situation. Are all workers of Cargill Ltd. practicing social distancing when they are outside the plant? Are all workers who come into contact with someone infected by the virus outside the plant — are they reporting it, are they staying home and self-isolating for 14 days to ensure they aren’t potentially exposing others in the community or workforce to the virus? Are the workers squeaky clean in their conduct?

The door swings both ways — the company has a responsibility to provide a healthy work place and the workers have a responsibility to make sure they aren’t contributing to the carrying infection inside the work place.

Unless Cargill has bought off Alberta Health Services and health and safety officials, it appears the company has gone a long way towards doing what it needs to do. Now the opposition leader and the union boss just need to make sure every worker entering the plant is healthy and virus-free.

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]





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