RED DEER, Alta. — The union representing staff at a central Alberta pork plant says it’s exploring legal options to make sure workers are paid during a shutdown brought on by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Olymel indefinitely closed its hog slaughtering, cutting and deboning operation in Red Deer, Alta., earlier this week after hundreds of workers became infected with the virus.
The president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 says in a statement that the union believes laying off workers without pay during the temporary closure contravenes its collective agreement with the company. The plant employs more than 1,800 workers.
Thomas Hesse says the union believes the company may also be in contravention of employment standards under Alberta law, and the union’s lawyers are reviewing the matter.
An Olymel spokesman confirms that earlier this week all employees were notified by personal letter that they would be laid off throughout the temporary closure.
Richard Vigneault says in an email that the closure is a case of force majeure — or unforeseeable circumstances — and there is no provision in the contract for staff to be paid after operations have ceased.
He says Olymel is maintaining workers’ insurance coverage and will offer wage advances with flexible terms as a bridge until government assistance comes through.
Alberta Health says that, as of Thursday afternoon, it had been notified of 389 cases linked to the Olymel outbreak, 197 of them were active, with one death.