“The number of confirmed cases we know of has grown to three,” said Tim Deelstra, media relations strategist for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals 175 and 633, which represents 70,000 workers in the food processing and retail sectors. in Ontario.
Deelstra said the three confirmed cases have been identified at the Dunlop Drive site, none to date have been identified at the Watson Parkway plant. The two factories collectively employ approximately 1,700 people.
The total of three cases is up from the only one identified in an April 24 story on GuelphToday.
Deelstra said the number of local cases was relatively stable compared to the more than 1,400 cases identified among meat processors across Canada as of May 7. Larger outbreaks have been recorded in plants in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario.
“Unfortunately, three lives were lost in Alberta and unfortunately in Ontario at another meat processing plant, Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton, where we also represent workers,” said Deelstra. “As a union, we continue to stand up for what we have been, trying to keep people safe.”
Recently, the federal government has announced that $ 77 million will be made available to food processors in response to COVID-19, but UFCW has said the details of how this money will be distributed are uncertain.
The union recommends that Cargill take all reasonable steps to make the factories safer, which may include spacing people on the line or possibly slowing production.
“We understand that food is important and the supply chain is important, but so are workers’ lives and their health and safety,” said Deelstra. “We are advocating for any measure that could include a small slowdown in production if it keeps people from getting sick, we think the compromise is worth it.”
The union is also calling on the company to make arrangements for personal protective equipment, as well as to make arrangements for safe travel to and from factories to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“We know that in one of these contexts where you bring groups of people together, the potential for the virus to spread is much higher,” said Deelstra. “We’ve seen it in long term care, retirement, corrections, etc.”
The union’s most recent requests to protect its workers can be found here.
Deelstra said the union would also be happy to have all employees tested for COVID-19, a package recently announced by the Quebec provincial government.
Guelph’s two Cargill plants are operating at 100% capacity on Wednesday, said company spokesman Daniel Sullivan.
Cargill has implemented a number of increased measures designed to provide greater safety and protection for workers at its plants in North America, said Sullivan. These include: screening questions before entering factories, temperature screening, improved sanitation and protective barriers, among others. A full list of current measures is available here.