Shutdown urged for Quebec pork plant after COVID-19 death

Union calls on Olymel to close site for at least two weeks

The union for over 1,000 workers at a major Quebec hog slaughter plant is calling on the owner to temporarily close the facility against a COVID-19 outbreak now blamed for the death of an employee.

Le Syndicat des travailleurs d’Olymel Vallee-Jonction-CSN said Wednesday the death of a worker earlier this week led it to demand that the company shut the Olymel plant at Vallee-Jonction — about 60 km south of Quebec City — for at least two weeks.

Quebec media on Wednesday quoted union officials as saying a 65-year-old employee had been off work since Friday last week with symptoms, was confirmed positive Tuesday for COVID-19 and died hours later.

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Local union president Martin Maurice — who was quoted in local media Wednesday as saying up to 80 Vallee-Jonction workers have tested positive for the coronavirus — said in a release that the union had called for protective measures for workers since the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began.

However, he said, the union this summer had to call again on the company — the meat packing arm of Quebec ag co-operative Sollio — over its “relaxation” of certain sanitary measures put in place to prevent an outbreak. The company had resumed overtime and cancelled a 10-minute buffer period between shifts, he said.

Also, Maurice said a number of “subcontractors” now work at the plant and added it’s not known whether those workers are following protective measures regarding moving from one work site to another.

David Bergeron-Cyr , president of the Federation du commerce-CSN (Confederation des syndicats nationaux), said the risks of working at Olymel plants are well known, because past experience has demonstrated slaughter plants, with close proximity between work stations, have an “abnormally elevated” rate of COVID transmission.

Essential workers shouldn’t have to assume such risk, he said in the union’s release Wednesday.

The Vallee-Jonction plant, in business since 1965, became part of the meats division of La Coop federee (now Sollio) in 1975 and today has capacity to slaughter about 35,000 hogs per week. The plant in 2016 added a ham deboning line that was expected to bring its total workforce to about 1,200.

Olymel previously shut its hog slaughter plant at Yamachiche, Que. for two weeks starting in late March after a COVID outbreak among employees there. The company’s hog plant at Red Deer, Alta. reported one positive COVID case in August but did not halt operations.

Other livestock slaughter and processing plants across the country have been reporting outbreaks in recent weeks, including the Exceldor Co-operative poultry plant at Blumenort, Man. and the J+L Beef plant at Surrey, B.C.

Local media are also reporting an outbreak among staff at the Fearmans Pork plant at Burlington, Ont. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

 

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Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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