Progress Alberta: Progress Report #216 (May 12, 2020): The avoidable tragedy continues

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Progress Report #216
Your weekly update on Alberta politics for May 12, 2020

Another worker employed at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River was killed by the coronavirus this weekend.

His passing brings the death toll at this facility, which the UCP government assured workers was safe, to three. Over 1500 cases of COVID-19 linked to the plant have been found in High River.

The response from the UCP government has mostly been attempts to deflect blame. Premier Kenney, his ministers and backbenchers, and their staff of ‘issues managers’ spent the week online aiming to discredit all critics. To criticize the UCP is to “drag Dr. Hinshaw,” according to Kenney’s ‘issues manager’ Matt Wolf. Outrage at the deaths is “regrettable politicization,” and the NDP secretly intend “to damage beef, poultry, and pork producers,” according to UCP MLA Peter Guthrie.

But no volume of Twitter gaslighting can contend with the truth. Documents from Alberta Occupational Health and Safety show that Cargill violated the OHS Act by shutting worker representatives out of their coronavirus safety investigation. Another Cargill facility in Chambly, Quebec has shut down after 65 employees there tested positive for the virus, which is raging through meat packing plants up and down the continent.

It’s undeniable at this point that factors related to employment at these plants–the conditions in the facilities themselves, the living conditions of the workers, their economic precarity and the obstacles preventing non-citizens from accessing care–make the plant workforce unacceptably vulnerable to this pandemic. And while the UCP government would like to pin the blame on anyone else, the fact is that the choice to close or not close the Cargill and JBS plants belonged to Jason Kenney’s cabinet and no-one else.

Our director Duncan was in High River all last week assisting with mutual aid and interviewing workers. Up on the Progress Report site you can find the workers’ view on the conditions in the plant, as well as one worker’s story of how Cargill dealt with him when he tested positive for the virus. We have several more interviews that we’ll be publishing through the week.

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I know this is a difficult time financially for almost everyone, so don’t stress if you can’t pitch in. But sending staff and freelance writers out to do investigative reporting isn’t cheap and we’d like to keep it up.

We’ll have more coverage of the Cargill situation on our social media throughout the week.


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Jim Storrie