More than 1,800 unionized workers are employed at Olymel. Advocate file photo

More than 1,800 unionized workers are employed at Olymel. Advocate file photo

Red Deer’s Filipino community experiencing racism after Olymel outbreak: union

Pork processing plant was recently shut down due to COVID-19 outbreak

The union representing Olymel workers is disappointed that Filipino workers are being blamed for COVID-19 transmission at the pork processing plant.

The United Food and Commercial Workers said it’s unfortunate that the focus of outbreaks at meat processing plants always drifts into a discussion about community transmission blamed on ethno-cultural communities –in this case Filipinos.

“Our position is COVID needs to be understood as an occupational disease,” said Thomas Hesse, president of Local 401 with the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The union said some are pointing to an alleged potluck among workers that took place at the plant as a source of COVID spread. The Red Deer Filipino community has since been the target of racism, which is unacceptable.

The company is investigating rumours that a birthday party held in a break room may be a source to the recent spike of active cases.

Olymel announced a temporary closure of its hog slaughtering, cutting and deboning operation in Red Deer last week, after hundreds of workers became infected with COVID-19.

The union said when the company hired new workers after ramping up production to 10,000 hogs a day from 7,000, it should have made sure new workers were familiar with all the safety protocols and were monitored appropriately.

“You don’t go and blame the workers for the workplace not being safe. That’s not their responsibility,” Hesse said.

“These outbreaks are happening in workplaces and we’re not paying enough attention to the protocols that need to be in place in order to ensure that these workplace outbreaks aren’t happening. As long as we continue to ignore these realities, we’ll continue to have outbreaks exactly like the one we’re dealing with right now at Olymel.”

Recently, Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault told the Advocate about a birthday party he heard was held in one of the trailers used to accommodate workers during their lunch and supper breaks.

More than 1,800 unionized workers are employed at Olymel, and seven trailers were installed with assigned capacity limits.

On Sunday, Vigneault said there is no new information regarding the ongoing investigation.

READ MORE: Union members gather outside Olymel

“There’s an inquiry about this, because we learned that there was a gathering of people to celebrate a birthday (in a trailer) that we have installed in the parking lot to facilitate people keeping their distance when they are on break or on lunch,” Vigneault said.

“We had reports that there had been a gathering of employees and it might be the source, but we’re not sure. We have to complete the investigation. Usually the employees respect the rules,” Vigneault added.

READ MORE: Olymel lays off workers during temporary shutdown

–With files from The Canadian Press

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