Union issues strike notice to Cargill as workers vote to hit picket line in High River, Alta.

The union representing workers at the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River, Alta., has issued a strike notice to the company. 

Employees at site of deadly COVID-19 outbreak last year cite health, safety concerns

This photo shows a union protest last year at Cargill's facility near High River, Alta. Workers at the plant continue to have COVID-related health and safety concerns, says the United Food and Commercial Workers union. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The union representing workers at the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River, Alta., has issued a strike notice to the company. 

If the changes workers are requesting are not made, meat-packing staff will hit the picket line Dec. 6, according to a notice addressed to Cargill's High River vice-president of labour, Tanya Teeter. 

Workers at the plant have brought up health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, said a Nov. 5 release from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.

At that time, Scott Payne, UFCW Local 401 union labour relations officer, said workers were angry and some of them scared to show up to work. 

Last year, the meat-packing plant was the site of a deadly outbreak. There were three COVID deaths connected to the southern Alberta plant.

High River meat-packing worker Joseph Kog, left, and UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse, right, hold a strike notice that was issued Wednesday to Cargill. (UFCW Local 401)

An additional 950 workers and hundreds of family and community members tested positive for COVID-19 due to the outbreak. Another outbreak this year resulted in dozens of cases.

UFCW Local 401 said workers also want improved benefits, for the company to move workers who are awarded new jobs to those jobs quickly, and reasonable wage increases. 

"They're big and they're bad, but we are not afraid," UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse said in a press release. 

Cargill provided a statement Thursday that said, in part, the company and union have continued negotiations over the past two days.

It said the two sides "have exchanged multiple comprehensive proposals that included increased wages well beyond the industry standard, enhanced employee benefits and cash bonuses for active employees."

In that statement, Cargill confirmed there was no agreement yet but it was "optimistic" one would be reached before the Dec. 6 strike deadline. 

The union said on Nov. 4 that more than 1,400 Cargill union members had participated in a strike vote, which is 75 per cent of workers at the plant.

Of those who voted, 97 per cent were in favour of strike action if the company does not make what they consider a fair offer.