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Cargill, union reach tentative deal that could avert strike at High River meat plant

CALGARY — The union representing workers at the meat-packing plant that was the site of one of Canada's largest COVID-19 outbreaks says it's reached a tentative deal with Cargill Inc., just days before a looming strike deadline.
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CALGARY — The union representing workers at the meat-packing plant that was the site of one of Canada's largest COVID-19 outbreaks says it's reached a tentative deal with Cargill Inc., just days before a looming strike deadline.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, which represents about 2,000 workers at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., said Wednesday it is recommending its members accept the latest contract offer from the company.

In a statement on its website, the union said the new contract offer, if ratified on Saturday, would be the best food processing contract in Canada.

"It is a dramatic improvement from the offer that union members saw last week and will significantly improve Cargill workers’ lives," the statement said.

In an email, Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said the company is offering a six-year collective agreement that includes retroactive pay, signing bonuses, a 21 per cent wage increase over the life of the contract and improved health benefits.

"We remain optimistic we can [ratify the] deal before the strike deadline and encourage employees to vote on this offer," Sullivan said.

Cargill and the union have been at loggerheads for some time over issues related to wages as well as health and safety. Workers voted 98 per cent last week against Cargill's previous offer, and the union had said workers would strike on Monday if a contract agreement couldn't be reached.

In addition to a significant wage increase, the proposed deal being recommended now also offers workers a $1,000 signing bonus and a $1,000 "COVID-19 bonus," the union said Wednesday. It also contains "significant contract provisions to facilitate a new culture of health, safety, dignity, and respect in the workplace."

In May of 2020, Cargill's High River plant was the site of a major workplace-related outbreak of COVID-19. More than 900 workers tested positive for the virus, and three deaths were linked to the outbreak.

The Cargill High River plant processes 35 per cent of Canada's beef production.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press