“It’s time to fight for food workers,” union leader to Alberta Premier Kenney
CALGARY, Alberta, April 24, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — With confirmed COVID-19 cases affecting Alberta grocery stores and major outbreaks and deaths in Alberta meat packinghouses, UFCW Local 401 President, Thomas Hesse, yesterday called on Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney, to implement immediate measures to protect frontline food workers in Alberta’s food processing facilities and grocery stores.
The letter from President Hesse to Premier Kenney dated April 23, 2020, is available here. (https://gounion.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20202.04.23-Letter-to-Premier-Kenney.pdf).A number of Alberta grocery stores have been closed because of COVID-19, and authorities report that 604 cases are directly linked to Cargill and JBS Foods, representing 16 percent of Alberta’s total confirmed cases. There have been confirmed COVID-19-related deaths of food workers in each of Cargill and JBS.“The outbreaks in High River and in Brooks are demonstrating that Alberta’s food workers will be disproportionately represented in the infected population,” Hesse writes. “We must act decisively now.”UFCW Local 401 is calling on the Alberta government to immediately establish an enforceable, all-encompassing, and worker-centred regulatory regime to protect frontline workers in all Alberta food processing facilities and grocery stores, whether they are unionized or not.“Leaving the private sector to regulate itself is like asking the fox to protect the hen house,” Hesse writes. “That is why we again request a meeting with public health officials and legislators with appropriate and competent authority to quickly establish clear, enforceable regulations to ensure the health, safety, and financial security of Alberta’s workers.”“This should involve a worker-centred approach that emphasizes the experiences of workers in the food processing industry. It should also be comprised of individuals far removed from political and employer agendas.”The letter outlines several key measures to protect food workers during COVID-19, including:
Immediate closure of workplaces where outbreaks have occurred, time off with pay for employees while COVID-19 testing and contact tracing takes place, and assurances that inspections include the participation and endorsement of the workers’ unionStatutory COVID-19 hazard pay of 1.5x regular the hourly rate of employees for all hours worked during the pandemicPresumptive status for COVID-19 related Workers’ Compensation Board claims for all food workersActive enforcement by government officials of social distancing and health and safety protocols in all grocery stores and food production facilitiesProvisions to ensure that no worker loses their job for being too afraid to attend work due to COVID-19.Grocery stores and food processing facilities are currently some of the only places in Alberta where mass gatherings of people in close proximity are allowed to occur. Considered “essential” by policy makers and employers, Alberta’s food workers are unable to follow recommendations to “stay home.”“Your government acted quickly to amend the Employment Standards Code to provide more ‘flexibility’ to employers,” writes Hesse. “We are asking for your government to now immediately enact regulations to protect workers.”“It’s time to fight for food workers,” says Hesse.The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 is the largest private sector union in Western Canada and represents 32,000 Alberta workers mainly in the food processing and retail sectors.Further informationThomas Hesse
President, UFCW Local 401