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Strike averted: 71% in favour of Cargill contract

'We are pleased to have reached an agreement that is comprehensive, fair and reflective of their commitment to excellence at Cargill.'
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The Cargill beef plant near High River, Alta., is shown April 23, 2020.

HIGH RIVER:  Tents, floodlights and propane heaters were brought to the High River's Cargill plant ahead of the Dec. 6 strike date, the union representing more than 2,000 workers said, but on Dec. 4, 71 per cent voted in favour of the company's contract. 

"We are pleased to have reached an agreement that is comprehensive, fair and reflective of their commitment to excellence at Cargill and the critical role they play in feeding families across Canada," said Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan.

"As an organization that leads with our value to put people first, we truly believe this ratification is in the best interests of our employees and we are eager to move forward to build a stronger future – together.”

The contract is the best of its kind, union representatives said, with retroactive pay, signing bonuses, wage increases, improved health benefits and a COVID-19 bonus. 

Cargill High River Plant was the site of North America's largest outbreak last year after more than 900 contracted the virus and three died. 

UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse said this made negotiations especially difficult. 

"Employees have felt trauma, fear, anxiety, they went to work scared, some of their friends died," Hesse told the Okotoks Western Wheel, noting that made fair compensation hard to quantify.

While the union says this agreement is cause to celebrate, "the injustices at Cargill, however, are not made right by the contract," the statement reads. 

Work is underway to ensure the new provisions of the contract are being enforced. 

Already, neighbouring companies are watching the precedent Cargill is setting.

UFCW Local 401 said its heading to the bargaining table in the new year. This time, they'll represent 2,500 Brooks employees who process beef at the JBS plant.