Calgary

Cargill workers to vote on new deal ahead of strike at one of Canada's largest beef-processing plants

Workers at Cargill's beef-processing plant in High River, Alta. — one of Canada's largest — will vote on a new company offer backed by union negotiators just days before a potential strike, the company said on Wednesday.

Union said the High River plant's 2,000 workers will strike on Monday unless deal is in place

Workers at Cargill have raised safety concerns. COVID-19 hit the High River, Alta., plant hard in 2020, sickening more than 900 workers. The outbreak, which forced Cargill to temporarily close the plant, is linked to three deaths. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Workers at Cargill's beef-processing plant in High River, Alta. — one of Canada's largest — will vote on a new company offer backed by union negotiators just days before a potential strike, the company said Wednesday.

The plant processes up to 4,500 head of cattle per day, or 35 per cent of Canada's beef-processing capacity.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 401 has said the plant's roughly 2,000 workers will strike on Monday unless a deal is in place.

After the two sides held talks on Tuesday, UFCW's bargaining committee agreed to recommend the new offer to its members, Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said. The vote will take place Thursday through Saturday.

The union released parts of the offer to CBC News on Wednesday. It includes $4,200 in retroactive pay for many Cargill union members; signing, holiday and COVID-19 bonuses; and a $5 wage increase.

The offer also includes improved health benefits and improved health and safety contract provisions.

"This has been a long and difficult journey for our Cargill members," said UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse in a statement. 

"Personally, I have mixed feelings about this," he said. 

"Our members may or may not  accept the offer. If they don't, I'll join them on the picket lines in solidarity and on strike.

'We remain optimistic'

Workers have raised safety concerns after COVID-19 hit the High River plant hard in 2020, causing more than 900 workers to get sick. The outbreak, which forced Cargill to temporarily close the plant, is linked to three deaths.

Outbreaks have hit other North American meat plants where employees often work in close quarters.

Cargill's offer includes a wage increase, improved health benefits and retroactive pay, Sullivan said, without providing details.

"We remain optimistic we can reach a deal before the strike deadline," Sullivan said in an email.

Workers voted 98 per cent last week against Cargill's previous offer. UFCW had recommended rejection.

A plant shutdown would quickly ripple through North America's beef and cattle supply chain.

More slaughter-ready cattle would have to stay longer at feedlots, incurring extra expense for those farmers, said CanFax senior analyst Brian Perillat.

With files from CBC Calgary

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