Calgary

Class-action lawsuit filed against Cargill meat-packing plant

A Calgary law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against Cargill Ltd. in connection to a COVID-19 outbreak that was at one point the largest in North America, at the company's beef-processing plant near High River, Alta.

Facility near High River linked to more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases and 3 deaths

The Cargill beef-processing plant in High River, Alta. At one point, the facility represented the largest single COVID-19 outbreak on the continent. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

A Calgary law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against Cargill Ltd. in connection to a COVID-19 outbreak that was at one point the largest in North America, at the company's beef-processing plant near High River, Alta.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday by the Calgary-based Guardian Law Group and James H. Brown and Associates, alleges Cargill ought to have known "that the lack of protective measures [at its facility near High River] would affect not only their own employees, but those close to them as well."

Mathew Farrell with Guardian Law Group said the company isn't being blamed for the coronavirus.

"Yes, there's a pandemic — that part's not your fault. You can't do anything about that," he said  "But there are things that you can do to make sure that your workers don't get sick, and that if they do get sick, they don't get a lot of other people sick.

"And those are the very things that Cargill, it is alleged, failed to do."

According to the release, the plaintiffs in the class action are individuals who had close contact with employees, but doesn't include the employees themselves because employees are covered by labour and workers' compensation laws.

The lawsuit still needs to be approved by a judge, and the allegations have not been proven in court.

Daniel Sullivan, a spokesperson with Cargill, said the company had no comment on the class-action lawsuit at this time.

"I can share that at Cargill, we take seriously our responsibility to feed the world and that keeping people safe is core to our values," Sullivan said in an email.

Cargill outbreak

After employees began to test positive for COVID-19, some told CBC News they continued to work in close quarters with colleagues despite physical distancing measures put in place by the company. Others said Cargill lured them back to work from self-isolation.

Cargill's facility at High River employs more than 2,000 people, many of whom are temporary foreign workers.

During the outbreak, more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 were linked to the plant, according to health officials, with more than 940 employees testing positive.

Nga Nguyen, husband of Hiep Bui Nguyen, a Cargill worker who died from COVID-19, speaks to the media in Calgary on May 4. (The Canadian Press)

Three deaths were also linked to the facility — 51-year-old union shop steward Benito Quesada; Hiep Bui, a 67-year-old woman who worked at the plant; and Armando Sallegue, an employee's 71-year-old father, who was visiting from the Philippines.

Two weeks and a day after Bui's death from COVID-19, Cargill reopened, saying it had implemented measures to keep employees safe, including installing protective barriers on the production floor and carpooling workers using buses with protective barriers between the seats.

Many of the employees live in large households and share transportation.

Cargill Ltd. is a Canadian subsidiary of the U.S.-based Cargill, which reported revenue of $113.5 billion US and net earnings of $2.56 billion last year.

The High River plant is back at full operation and processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day — more than one-third of Canada's beef-packing capacity.

With files from Elissa Carpenter and The Canadian Press

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