Alberta Newspaper Group
Workers, ranchers and grocery shoppers are awaiting results of a contract vote this week that could avoid a strike at one of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses.
More than 2,000 workers at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River cast ballots Tuesday and Wednesday on what the company described as a new offer to settle staled contract talks.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, Local No. 401, which served a Dec. 6 strike date, recommended its members reject the multi-year deal that includes thousands of dollars as a signing bonus, then a 9.5% wage hike in early 2022.
Health and safety issues are a major issue from the union’s point of view, officials have told labour publications, who say the offer could be improved.
The plant was the site of a major COVID-19 outbreak in the spring of 2020, during which the UFCW unsuccessfully called for a plant shutdown to stop the spread of infections.
Workers voted 97% in favour of giving its bargaining committee a strike mandate earlier this month, and officials say the public will support workers.
“It’s absurd that Cargill would want to see a prolonged attack on their brand. If ever a group of workers deserved more, it is here, now,” said union president Tom Hesse.
In the offer, posted on the UFCW’s website, the company would provide a retroactive one-time bonus of $1 per hour worked since the contract expired in January 2021. It also offers an immediate payment of $1,200 as a “COVID bonus” to resolve a number of grievances filed by the union.
Base rates would rise by $2 per hour in early 2022 as a base adjustment, meaning a production line worker would earn $23.25 per hour after six months. Raises of 50 cents per hour would follow in each of the subsequent four years.
The UFCW also represents 2,500 workers at the JBS processing plant in Brooks. Contract talks will proceed there after the current contract expires in January 2022.