Union calls for closure of Calgary chicken plant following COVID-19 outbreak

CALGARY — The president of the union representing employees at the Lilydale poultry processing plant in southeast Calgary says the plant should be closed while the company deals with an outbreak of COVID-19.

“These plants should close for re-examination, from top to bottom a complete cleaning and allowing employees to go home and self-isolate,” said Thomas Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 401. “That’s what this plant needs to do.

“We just simply don’t know what nooks and crannies this disease is in. It’s an old plant. It’s a crowded plant. It’s in the city of Calgary. It’s a real danger and it ought to be closed until we can get a handle on it.”

Alberta Health Services confirms that, as of Tuesday, there are 24 active cases at the Lilydale plant and three recovered cases linked to the outbreak. 

“I want to emphasize that management and staff involved in all of the outbreaks are working closely with public health to prevent the spread,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, in a press conference Monday. 

This is the second time there has been an outbreak at the facility located on Hurst Road S.E. 

Hesse said, as a result of the union’s advocacy, Lilydale has cancelled the afternoon shift, impacting about 100 employees. 

Hesse said the industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. 

“There are some variables that certainly put it at risk. Very, very close quarters work, hundreds of workers jammed into small spaces, thousands and thousands of animals killed and really an obsession with production and making money and these industries can’t be left to self-police.”

This isn’t the only outbreak currently underway at a meat facility in the Calgary area. 

AHS confirms there are 68 active cases linked to Harmony Beef Company in Rocky View County. Three people have recovered. 

CTV has reached out to Sofina Foods/Lilydale and Harmony Beef for comment but has not received a response. 

Hesse says UFCW Local 401 represents about 10,000 employees at meat processing facilities in Alberta. He encourages concerned Lilydale workers to reach out to the union, which can assist with Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), unemployment insurance and their legal rights.

“Employees have rights, they have the right to refuse unsafe work. If they reasonably believe the work to be unsafe they should stay home. No job is worth risking the life of yourself or your family.”

AHS provided the following statement to CTV News Tuesday afternoon:

AHS continues to work closely with the operators of each plant, Occupational Health & Safety, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure the ongoing safety and well-being of all employees, inspectors and contractors.

Both facilities remain open and were already following established COVID-19 protocols to protect staff and reduce the risk of transmission between workers.

In addition to their existing very strict sanitation protocols and practices, food processors in Alberta continue to implement enhancements to ensure staff and products are safe.

AHS has not requested either facility to close.

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