1,560 COVID-19 cases are now linked to a Cargill slaughterhouse in Alberta — a look inside into North America’s largest single coronavirus outbreak

Hiep Bui spent 23 years at the Cargill meat-packing plant in southern Alberta — picking out bones from ground beef in a refrigerated room.
The 67-year-old was one of around 2,000 workers at the plant, located near the town of High River, south of Calgary.
The plant is the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak linked to a single facility in North America, according to outbreak data from Canadian and U.S. health authorities. A total of 1,560 cases have been linked to the plant, provincial health officials say, with 949 employees testing positive and two deaths — Bui was the first.
The second was Armando Sallegue, who died of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Sallegue's son, Arwyn, worked at the plant and was confirmed to have the virus the same day his father began to show symptoms.
The deaths, and the coronavirus outbreak, put into sharp relief the heavy toll meat-packing work can take on members of a workforce that often have few other opportunities.
"The union asked for help, the workers asked for help. The workplace was declared safe ... and a worker has died," said Alex Shevalier, president of the Calgary and District Labour Council, during an online vigil for workers who have lost their lives on the job.
"What we do now is what matters. We cannot bring that sister back but we have to fight for the living. We need a public inquiry and we need a criminal investigation and we need them now.”
Hiep Bui, left, and husband Nga Nguyen. Bui died of COVID-19 amid an outbreak that has affected hundreds of her fellow workers at Cargill. (ActionDignity Facebook page, Dave Gilson/CBC)
Hiep Bui, left, and husband Nga Nguyen. Bui died of COVID-19 amid an outbreak that has affected hundreds of her fellow workers at Cargill. (ActionDignity Facebook page, Dave Gilson/CBC)
On Monday, the same day the Cargill plant reopened after a two-week closure, Bui’s memorial service was livestreamed on social media.
Bui’s husband of more than 25 years, Nga Nguyen — who also works at Cargill and contracted COVID-19 — was asked whether Cargill had called him to express its condolences.
Nguyen shrugged and shook his head. Communicating in Vietnamese through an interpreter, he said, no, the company hadn’t called.
“He’s feeling numb,” his interpreter said. “He doesn’t know if he’s angry. Just numb.”

Cargill, a company worth billions, has been accused by employees and the union of caring more about its bottom line than worker wellbeing.
"Honestly speaking, they don't care about their employees," one worker said. "They're saying they can replace people at any time. They don't care."
John Keating, president of Cargill Meat Solutions, a subsidiary of Cargill, said the company puts people first. He said his heart hurts to lose an employee, and he was surprised to hear the company has yet to reach out to Bui's husband.
He said the company was “hit overnight” by the outbreak and there are lessons to be learned.
“If we need to feel the need to apologize, absolutely, we will apologize. We're a very humble organization, we feel bad about what happened but at the same time we're very confident in how we run our businesses, how we run our processes.”
On Tuesday, the day after CBC News spoke to Keating, the company said it had reached out to Nguyen to offer condolences.
After employees first began to test positive for the coronavirus, some told CBC News they continued to work in close quarters with colleagues despite physical distancing measures put in place by the company and said Cargill pressured them to return to work even after they contracted COVID-19.
The number of cases at Cargill is staggering even when compared with the U.S., which has the highest total number of active COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world. As of May 1, there were 4,913 COVID-19 cases in total among all meat-packing plants in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

CBC News interviewed 14 current employees of Cargill for this story. Their identities have been kept confidential because they fear negative impacts on their employment should they be identified.
The workers at the plant are primarily immigrants to Canada or temporary foreign workers and many speak limited to no English. Some say their job security is key to them remaining in the country.
Employees have said they’ve sustained injuries at the plant, from blackened fingers to knee damage that has made it difficult to walk.
Cargill said ergonomic experts were in place at the facility to guide the work.
"We have a ramp-up plan in place to ensure our team builds strength and protects their long-term health. We are focused on keeping our employees safe and healthy now and for the future," company spokesperson Daniel Sullivan said in an email.

The 'kill floor'

The first thing employees say you notice when you enter the Cargill facility in High River is the smell — something familiar, like that of an animal, but with a distinctive note of blood hanging in the air.
There are two main areas of Cargill’s facility. On the harvest floor, colloquially dubbed the "kill floor," workers bleed cattle, skin them and hang them from hooks in a warm environment.
The majority of the area on the kill floor is more spaced out, allowing for two metres of space between employees in most areas. But the work can still be challenging, employees say.
Cattle are led into what’s known as the knocking area, where they are hit in the head with a bolt gun meant to stun them. Then, using a knife, a worker will cut the throat of the animal to bleed it.
This work can be dangerous for employees, as the behaviour of a nervous animal is difficult to predict.
Then there's the fabrication line, where workers say they're packed in elbow to elbow. Here, they work cutting meat for eight hours a day, often using knives to trim carcasses and remove fat.
Workers say part of the challenge of working on the fabrication line is the speed with which it moves — rates of speed which they say have led to injuries.
"My fingernail is all black. Not only me, all the employees," said one worker on the fabrication line, "because there’s no blood circulation, because of too much grip. You need to hurry and then your hand is numb.
"Some of my [fellow] employees, not only one, two, three fingers, all black."

Another employee who works in maintenance at the facility said those on the line feel constant pressure to keep their speed up. Delays, such as mechanical issues, can exacerbate those stressors.
"Some machines are just worn out [and will fail]. Then, it’s constant screaming, cursing ... and I mean, people are getting frustrated with that," he said.
"But some of these people are new in Canada, they’re from the Philippines. So basically, they get scared, they think they’re going to be sent back home or they’ll lose their permanent residence. So they basically just shut up and do what they’re being told."
These workers, completing repetitive tasks over and over all day, are particularly at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and muscle strain, said Jessica Leibler, an environmental health professor from Boston University.

'I cannot walk'

One worker said a fellow employee cut off three of his fingers while slicing meat on a weekend shift and began to bleed.
"He was bleeding for 40 minutes because they don’t want us to call 911," he said. "They wanted us to call the on-call nurse because she will evaluate the guy, whether he needs to go to hospital."
Sullivan, the Cargill spokesperson, said employees with concerns should report it through the "many reporting channels" open to them.
"To our knowledge, this [incident] is false. Our policy is to contact medical professionals or our nursing staff when an injury occurs," Sullivan said in an email.
Injuries have also occurred in other areas. One worker in the packaging area of the facility said she damaged her knee repeatedly lifting heavy boxes.
"Now, I cannot even stand too long, I cannot walk," she said.
The cramped facilities mean breaks are just as crowded as regular shifts, employees said.
Without fail, one worker said, coffee breaks and lunchtime see the cafeteria — referred to as the "feedlot" — fill to capacity with employees.
When employees are done eating, they’ll move into the locker-room, chatting and lounging while they wait to be let back onto the main floor.
"In the locker-room, it’s super-crowded," one employee said. "Very filthy."

1,560 COVID-19 cases are now linked to a Cargill slaughterhouse in Alberta — a look inside into North America’s largest single coronavirus outbreak 1,560 COVID-19 cases are now linked to a Cargill slaughterhouse in Alberta — a look inside into North America’s largest single coronavirus outbreak Reviewed by CUZZ BLUE on May 07, 2020 Rating: 5

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.