A union representing High River Cargill workers issues a strike notice

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Workers at a Cargill factory outside High River will hit the picket in less than a month if an agreement with the company cannot be reached, according to their union.

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It is a labor dispute that could inject even more uncertainty into a beef market that is already seeing rising prices in North America amid global supply chains.

The Food and Commerce Workers ’Site 401 said it served a stricken notice to Cargill representatives at a Wednesday business meeting in Calgary. The notice said the union will go on strike from December 6 unless an agreement is reached on a new collective agreement.

In a vote the previous week, 97 percent of about 1,400 workers who voted were in favor of a strike amid a stalemate in bargaining.

Union spokesman Scott Payne told Postmedia at the time that members were frustrated by a lack of movement to an agreement after the previous contract expired in late 2020. He said the union wants a new agreement to address health and safety concerns, including issues. related to COVID-19, as well as movement within the company and salaries.

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The High River facility is the largest in the country and accounts for approximately 40 percent of Canada’s beef processing capacity. According to Cargill’s website, the High River factory employs more than 2,000 people through two shifts and processes about 4,500 cattle daily.

A strike, if it occurs, would come when red meat touches record prices. It is the latest example of workers flexing newly found leverage in a company critical for food supply chains.

This could mean a decrease in packaged beef on store shelves as well as more “meat flanking”. Farmers will also likely have to keep their animals longer, which increases production costs.

In a statement by Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan on Thursday, the company said it had exchanged proposals with the union, which included increased wages “well beyond the industry standard” as well as increased benefits and cash bonuses.

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“Unfortunately, we still have to reach an agreement. However, we are optimistic that we can, and we will continue to work for an agreement until the deadline of the December 6 strike in the Union,” the statement said. company.

“We remain focused on employee safety, ensuring farmers and agriculturists have access to markets and providing meals for families across Canada.”

Payne said he believes a strike is the most likely outcome of the labor dispute.

Cargill’s High River factory faced scrutiny last spring when it was home to Canada’s largest outbreak of COVID-19, causing workers ’concerns about pandemic health and safety.

Just under 950 workers were positive for the virus during the outbreak, representing nearly half of the plant’s workforce; three deaths were linked to the outbreak, including workers Benito Quesada, 51, and Hiep Bui, 67.

The outbreak caused a temporary shutdown at the plant, with operations paused for two weeks in an attempt to control a virus.

“With files by Marcy Nicholson, Bloomberg News.”

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