Employees at High River beef processing plant serve strike notice to Cargill

(USDA photo by Alice Welch; public domain)

Union representatives have presented Cargill’s vice president of labour relations with a strike notice for the High River beef processing plant.

“Our members will be commencing a strike there on December 6th, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. The High River plant will be the initial location of the strike, but we reserve our constitutional right to engage in picketing, secondary picketing, leafletting, or other chosen activities at other locations, or venues, in furtherance of our cause,” the letter says.

The strike notice was delivered on Wednesday (November 10), the second day of meetings between UFCW Local 401 representatives and management of Cargill.

1,400 Cargill union members participated in the strike vote, representing 75 per cent of eligible voting members. Of those 1,400, 97 per cent voted in favour of job action.

The union says that job action and picketing are planned, but that escalating action could include calling on Canadians to boycott beef.

The union says the main points at issue include workers’ benefits, moving workers to new jobs quickly, addressing the COVID-related health and safety concerns at the plant that workers have consistently brought up, and, offer reasonable wage increases.

In a statement, the union says a deal is still possible before the strike deadline.

Cargill, meanwhile, remains optimistic the two sides will reach an agreement before the strike deadline.

“Over the last two days, our company and the union representing employees at our High River protein facility have exchanged multiple comprehensive proposals that included increased wages well beyond the industry standard, enhanced employee benefits and cash bonus’ for active employees. We believe that our proposal is very fair and representative of our values to put people first and do the right thing,” says a Cargill spokesperson in a statement sent to RealAgriculture. “At Cargill, we greatly value our employees and the work they do to feed Canadians.”

Cargill’s spokesperson says they continue to work towards an agreement by the union’s December 6 deadline.

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

The Cargill High River plant can process 4,500 cattle per day, accounting for around 36 per cent of Canada’s processing capacity.

The plant was shut down for two weeks in the spring of 2020 due to a COVID outbreak among employees.

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