“When the three were announced yesterday, there was a very high absenteeism rate from the factory. And what we heard from our members is that they were all going to be tested, or a lot of them were, ”Traeger said.
“They don’t feel safe. Cases have now doubled since yesterday, so I suspect the fear will be worse. ”
The first employee who tested positive started feeling ill at work on July 28 and has not been at work since, the union said earlier this week. More than 70 other staff who may have been exposed went into isolation at home after this worker fell ill.
UFCW announced three cases in a note Wednesday night and four more in a note Thursday night.
None of the eight cases involve workers on the production line, Traeger said.
The UFCW represents almost 2,000 workers at the Brandon plant, a town of about 48,300 people located about 200 kilometers west of Winnipeg.
Manitoba’s union and opposition parties are calling on Maple Leaf to shut down plant operations until August 10 at the earliest, so workers can get tested and the facility can be cleaned.
No plan to stop operations
Maple Leaf told CBC News in a statement Thursday that it has no plans to halt operations.
The Brandon plant was inspected by public health, occupational safety and Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials on Thursday afternoon, Maple Leaf said in a statement posted online.
“The result of this inspection was a positive reinforcement of the rigorous measures Maple Leaf Foods is taking to provide a safe work environment and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace,” the statement said. These measures include barriers, distancing and screening.
The company’s Lethbridge, Alta. Plant also has an employee who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, the statement said.
“Investigation of these cases indicates that all are related to the spread of the community and not to contact in the workplace. All affected employees are recovering at home, ”the statement said.
Dr Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Thursday that public health had not seen evidence of transmission at the Maple Leaf plant so far.
Roussin said Thursday there was a cluster of 28 cases in Brandon, of which 18 were announced Thursday.
The cluster was born with someone who traveled to the east of the province and did not self-isolate properly upon their return, Roussin said.
“Extremely limited” options
Traeger said Maple Leaf employees who are afraid to go to work have few options. Manitoba’s Labor Relations Act gives wokers the right to refuse unsafe work, but Traeger said the law does not apply in the Brandon case because public health officials said the precautions from Maple Leaf were sufficient.
“Their choices are extremely limited,” Traeger said. “They can either go to work or take the risk… of being absent without permission by not showing up for work.
The facility is “absolutely huge,” he said, with a cafeteria that can accommodate around 1,200 people and a sectional floor that can accommodate 600 to 800 people per day.
He pointed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 at other meat processing facilities in North America, including a beef processing plant of Cargill Ltd. near High River, Alberta. Three people have died and 940 employees have tested positive as a result of this outbreak.
“We’re in the same position right now that the Cargill plant was at the very start of the outbreak, where we have a small number, a handful, less than 10 people who have the virus,” Traeger said.
“At Cargill, in two days it became 30, and in seven days it became 900.”