Olymel brought some workers back to the plant for training Wednesday but a date for reopening has not been set. (File photo by Advocate Staff)

Olymel brought some workers back to the plant for training Wednesday but a date for reopening has not been set. (File photo by Advocate Staff)

Some Olymel workers return for training, plant reopening date not set

Union calls for delay of opening as workers fear for safety

A collection of workers at the Olymel meat processing plant in Red Deer returned to work Wednesday.

The company confirmed Wednesday that workers are arriving back at the plant for training, but no official word has been given as to when the plant will reopen.

According to Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault, the company is still awaiting word from Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety about when they can reopen the plant for production.

“We do not have any date yet, but it could change for the eventual progressive reopening. No date now,” said Vigneault.

“Some activity at the plant (Wednesday), there were people called for special training related to sanitary measures.”

The plant closure was announced on Feb. 15, after a COVID-19 outbreak was discovered. There have been about 515 COVID-19 cases connected to Olymel to date.

Alberta Health Services said in a statement Wednesday that following Olymel’s decision to gradually reopen, a joint inspection of the site and review of the reopening plans took place on Tuesday.

That meeting included the company, the union, AHS, OHS and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. AHS also noted the company underwent another joint inspection Wednesday and AHS has submitted recommendations for the company to bolster its current COVID-19 plan.

Those recommendations include, implementing capacity limits in lockers rooms and washrooms; removing reusable dishes in break rooms; enhanced cleaning/disinfecting schedules of washrooms, break rooms, locker rooms; more hand sanitizing stations throughout the site; increased education plan for staff, including staff training sessions, posters, and other visuals.

AHS also noted they will now have a team dedicated to monitoring the outbreak.

“To carryout contact tracing, education regarding self-isolation and helping coordinate appointments for Olymel staff and their families to receive COVID-19 testing on an ongoing basis,” the statement read.

They will also have voluntary testing onsite to monitor asymptomatic spread among employees and their families.

Larry Zima, director of the north for UFCW Local 401, said in a Twitter video Wednesday morning standing outside the plant, that the union is there in solidarity with workers who were called back to work. He said Olymel made a last-second decision to bring workers in for training Wednesday.

“We’re here on the first day people are being recalled back to work after the closure. We still do not believe the plant is safe to operate. We are here showing our members that we’re here in solidarity and we’ll be here all the time,” he said.

In an open letter to the company Monday, UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse, said that union members still do not feel comfortable returning to work or that Olymel has taken sufficient measures to make the workplace safe. The letter indicates that 75 per cent of employees are scared or nervous to return to work, 80 per cent are unsure if the plant is safe and 75 per cent do not trust Olymel to keep them safe.

The union said it had responses from 600 of the nearly 1,850 workers at the plant.

Workers are demanding financial support for the time during which they were not paid and going forward, Hesse wrote in the letter.

The union listed 22 action items that the company should implement in order to safely reopen, such as provide additional safety training, full compensation for all employees for the period of time that the plant was closed and have staggered start and break times to ensure effective social distancing among others.

“Ultimately, we cannot agree that Olymel’s Red Deer plant has been made safe for our members, nor to a reopening of the plant, until our list of action items has been fulfilled,” Hesse said.

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