Champions of Agriculture

This morning, workers returned to North America’s single worst workplace outbreak of coronavirus: the Cargill meat packing plant in High River.

The plant officially opened on Monday--the same day as the funeral for Bui Thi Hiep, the first worker at the plant to die from the virus. But today is when the full workforce returns. By now nearly half of the entire staff of the plant has tested positive for COVID-19, but the plant owners and the UCP government maintain that the workplace is not dangerous. The bereaved might argue otherwise.

The Cargill corporation is one of the largest companies in the world--a bit bigger than AT&T. It is 90% owned by the American Cargill family, one of the world’s richest dynasties; at least 14 of the Cargills are billionaires. Cargill’s High River plant relies on a large force of temporary foreign workers, predominantly from the Philippines. As their residence in Canada is contingent upon their employment at the plant, they have little recourse against an employer that is urging them back into dangerous work. And while the situation is at its worst in High River, it’s not unique: outbreaks are occurring at Cargill plants across North America.

Our director Duncan is in High River this week assisting with mutual aid for the workers and interviewing who he can. Expect a report from him soon. Last week, Duncan sat down with Marco Luciano from Migrante to discuss the High River situation for the Progress Report podcast.

Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP have consistently sided with the Cargill corporation over the workers since the alarm was first raised about contagion at the plant weeks ago. Yesterday, Kenney announced he was striking a new committee, “the Champions of Agriculture,” that will “work to debunk myths in the agriculture industry.” The first appointee to this ‘meat war room’ will be the president and CEO of JBS Foods Canada, David Colwell.

As of Tuesday, 487 workers had been infected by a coronavirus outbreak at the Brooks JBS plant--more than half of the cases in the entirety of Brooks--and one worker has died. Outbreaks are out of control in several JBS plants in multiple countries.


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