Cargill union members could strike after 98% turned down contract offers

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Union workers with Cargill have voted overwhelmingly against the company’s latest contract offer, enabling them to strike as early as 6 December.

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UFCW Local 401, the union representing about 2,400 workers at Cargill’s two meat processing and packaging facilities in Alberta, said 98 percent of its workers turned down the offer. The almost unanimous rejection shows the need for the employer to rebuild trust in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse

“Ultimately, it is counter-intuitive for any worker to want to stand on the street, withdraw their work, take on all the risks associated with it. It is provoked,” Hesse told Postmedia.

“Cargill has made some approaches and has reached out, and I think bargaining sessions will encourage between now and December 6 … (But) the workers must decide. If there is an offer of significant improvement, the workers will come to to reflect on it and also vote on it, perhaps before a strike comes. ”

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The difficult labor dispute was heated up two weeks ago when union leaders issued Cargill a warning that workers would hit the line if a new collective agreement could not be reached.

A strike would come as red meat prices approach record highs in North America amid global supply chain battles. A shutdown of the High River plant would inject more uncertainty into that market, as this plant accounts for about 40 percent of Canada’s beef processing capacity, employs about 2,000 workers in two shifts and processes about 4,500 cattle daily.

Hesse said he believes workers have public sympathy during the dispute, which increases the possibility of a beef boycott if workers go on strike.

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In an email, Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said the company is optimistic an agreement can be reached before the December 6 deadline. He said the company’s proposal reflects the “tremendous skill and dedication” of factory workers.

“We are willing to keep meeting to avoid work interruptions that are not in anyone’s best interest in an already challenging time,” Sullivan said.

“As we navigate this negotiation, we continue to focus on fulfilling orders from food producers, retailers and food service customers while keeping the markets going for farmers and ranchers. If necessary, we will move production to other facilities within our wide supply chain footprint to minimize any disruption. “

Cargill’s High River factory was the site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada in the spring of 2020. Three deaths were associated with that outbreak, and nearly half of the factory’s workers tested positive for the virus.

UFCW Local 401 also represents nearly 400 workers at Cargill’s Case Ready Meat Package in northeast Calgary.

Hesse said security and compensation are issues for workers, but said negotiations to date have been largely driven by emotions and conversations around trust.

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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